iPhone users now have at least one less reason for getting lost. Google has released an iOS version of its Maps app, meaning that users can avoid using Apple's own, problem-plagued Maps.
Google Maps showed up on Apple's iTunes App Store late Wednesday, and has already become the top free app in that venue. A Google Maps SDK for iOS has also been released, for developers who want to integrate the product into their own app. There had been reports over the last month that Google was readying its new iOS version, and either had submitted it to Apple for inclusion in the store, or was getting ready to.
iOS 5.1 and Higher
The new Google Maps is available in 29 languages and over 40 countries for the iPhone and fourth generation iPod Touches using iOS 5.1 or higher. The iPad version has not been yet released.
Google's app has turn-by-turn navigation, so it can function as a voice-guided GPS navigator while driving. The app features what the company described Wednesday on its Official Blog as "detailed information for more than 80 million businesses and points of interest," including indoor photos of some businesses, as well as "smooth tilting and rotating of 2D and 3D views."
Google said that the vector-based map is "sharper looking" and shows more map on the screen than the previous version Apple had rejected. There's also information on more than 1 million public transit stops, in contrast to the lack of public transportation data in Apple's Maps, which has been one of the major complaints.
In September, Apple removed Google's Maps from its mobile devices and replaced it with Apple's Maps app when it launched iOS 6. Google's Maps was still available through a browser on Apple's devices, but users wanted the more direct and faster native app.
The Australian Incident
Apple's app has received a storm of criticism. Worse, the Maps app was recently cited by police in the town of Mildura, Australia, as a key reason that motorists looking for the town were getting lost in the middle of a national park about 45 miles away from the correct destination.
There is no water supply in the park, temperatures during the day can reach 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and some motorists who used the Apple Maps app were stranded for up to 24 hours in the park without food or water. Police requested that visitors avoid using the app, and asked Apple to correct the error, which it did.
There have been countless reports of missing or incorrect information in the Apple app, including the wrong location for the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., graphical depictions of highways going vertically, and a search for Canada that returns "no results found." As a result of the bad press and unhappy users, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a rare apology several weeks ago in which the company promised to fix the problems, and two of the key executives with responsibility for the app were let go.
Ross Rubin, principal analyst for Reticle Research, said Google's re-entry into iOS maps does not mark the end of Apple's participation in that area. He pointed out that even Google's new SDK has "a provision for defaulting to Apple Maps" if the Google app is not present. Additionally, he noted that "a fairly large number of consumers don't download many apps," and so may choose to use the default Apple one.
Maps are "definitely a linchpin in the ecosystem battle" among mobile devices, he said, where digital tools and the real world come together. He added that "Apple wanted to be in control of what is increasingly part of the mobile solution."