December 14, 2012

Google Maps For iPhone: What's Here And What's Missing

Google Maps for iPhone just launched and already it's the top dog in the App Store. So much so, it nearly brought down Apple servers. Depending on what time and day you check, Google's apps are in 4 of the top 20 spots on the iTunes most downloaded list (due to Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, and Google Drive). Clearly, Apple left a void when they removed Google Maps from iOS 6, and now this void has been filled. But how well? Let's check out what advantages and disadvantages there are to using Google Maps compared to Apple's own mapping service.

Advantages of Google Maps

  • Mass public transit information
  • Street View imagery
  • Indoor maps with Business Photos
  • Voice-guided, turn-by-turn GPS navigation for iPhone 3GS and 4
  • Google's super accurate maps data

Advantages of Apple Maps

  • 3D imagery in some cities

What You Get in Both

  • Voice-guided, turn-by-turn GPS navigation on iPhone 4S and 5
  • Information on tens of millions of businesses and points of interest
  • Nice interface with simple controls (some argue Apple Maps look a little prettier)
  • Maps, sattelite, and live traffic layers

What's Still Missing

Even though this is clearly a stand-out app, and despite just launching, it's already the clear top choice in maps for the iPhone, Engadget points out there are still a few key features missing. Look for most of these features (if not all) to be added within less than a year, as the app gets updated.
  • Offline maps
  • Night mode for navigation
  • iPad-optimized version
  • More layers like bicycling and terrain (maybe even 3D layer like in Google Earth)
  • More Google+ Local tie-ins with an easy way to browse nearby attractions & see friend recommendations & personalized suggestions
  • Manual rerouting

Going Forward

I expect Google Maps for iOS to quickly become and remain the more popular option to Apple Maps and other competitors. This is not just empty praise or Google cheerleading. Google has years and years of experience above Apple and a far wider user base. Every one of the hundreds of millions of people using Google Maps is a data point which Google can use to improve the app. That's why Google can offer live traffic in many more countries than Apple--because Android reaches places the iPhone does not. At the same time, Apple uses TomTom for the navigation aspect of Apple Maps. They rely on Yelp for business data. They have dozens of partners that are required to make their service work. Google, on the other hand, owns the whole experience. In some countries, they still license some information. But in most major markets, Google has built their own mapping data, business data, and navigation capabilities from the ground-up. They own the entire process. Therefore, they can update and iterate much faster, without waiting for partner permissions.