For the level of rejoicing, you could be forgiven that the second coming had come to pass. In a way, it had. Google Maps was back on the iPhone and users couldn’t get enough of it.
Facebook and Twitter were alive with talk about the return of the service which Apple unceremoniously ditched a year ahead of schedule for its own, risible, effort. The fact is, last week’s Google Maps iOS resurrection is so much more than a return of the old-school version. While keeping the Big G’s superb mapping and easy-to-use interface, this is a wholesale redesign of the old iOS app.
There’s now vector mapping for better zooming, a feature which Apple Maps actually does pretty well, along with proper turn-by-turn navigation, a feature which Apple refused Google to add to its old native iOS app. Chuck in cool features like swipe to access Google Earth, improved public transport directions and even shaking your iPhone to bring up a feedback link to send to Google, and this is so far beyond Apple’s effort it’s ridiculous. In fact, it shows just how far Apple has to go before it can even stand toe-to-toe with Google in the mapping space.
There had been talk that Apple would hold up Google’s maps app. But the fact it’s allowed it to enter the iOS fray in such pimped out fashion is nothing short of an admission that its own Maps offering is years off the pace. Apple knows that it cannot compete and has had to bite the bullet. To not allow Google Maps back into the iOS party would have merely compounded what was surely a corporate mistake in kicking it out in the first place.
Google has done a great job in pushing its Maps app further. Turn-by-turn navigation works on iOS 5.1 and higher and the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. Apple’s admittedly decent TomTom-backed service only works on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, with support only for iOS 6. Can Apple get close to fighting back and make its own Maps offering match up to Google’s? Maybe, but not in the next year. Apple needs more expertise and a wider network of people checking map data in order to make its service works as well as it should.
Tales of its failures, like the recent story of danger of death warnings to Australian users going through barren outback areas, means its PR failings are unlikely to die down any time soon. No user in their right mind would now opt for it over Google or Nokia’s solutions for serious navigation needs.
With Google’s return, Apple Maps has been confirmed as one of Cupertino’s most unerring failures since it became the world’s favourite tech titan.