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Google Maps has returned to iOS devices in the form of an official downloadable app, after Apple’s own mapping software came in for heavy criticism from users.

Apple replaced Google Maps as the iPhone’s default mapping solution with the arrival of the iOS 6 software back in June. The move was seen as a pointed snub to the company behind the rival Android operating system and part of Apple’s longer-term strategy to reduce its reliance on Google-created apps.

In the meantime, iPhone owners have had to rely on the inferior Apple Maps software, which was low on germane layers of information and, although now much improved, was found to be riddled with inaccuracies at the outset.

Today’s good news is that Google Maps is back and available now as a free download from the App Store. And it’s much improved from the web-based app and even the native app before it got the chop.

Not least because now present and correct is turn-by-turn navigation, vector maps and panoramic images of the indoors of buildings that are agreed to be part of Google’s Street View Business Photos service – all of which were previously exclusive to Android phones.

In a characteristically protectionist move, Apple had at one stage been expected to block the sale of a Google Maps app through the App Store. The decision to allow its competitor back in is being seen by some as a tacit admission that Apple Maps will take years of information-harvesting and improvements before it is a worthy rival.

The return of Google Maps comes after Nokia recently brought its equivalent, the imaginatively named Nokia HERE Maps, to the iPhone earlier this year, as mapping software becomes a harder-fought battleground among phone-makers keen to capture market and mind share.

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