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You Are the Real Winner Of the Mobile Maps Wars

Google Maps is back and better than ever. Its return may encourage Apple to innovate with its own Maps app.
December 13, 2012

We’ve all seen that stereotypical movie scene where two long-lost lovers reunite–most likely by running toward each other in a verdant field filled with wildflowers beneath an improbably beautiful blue sky. That’s how I felt this morning sitting on my couch downloading the new, free Google Maps iOS app onto my iPhone, minus the kisses and tumbling through grass.

It’s been a long few months navigating the streets of the Bay Area without Google Maps. When Apple replaced Google’s app with its own Maps application in September as part of an iOS update, I was intrigued, and then annoyed. Things were mis-marked on Apple’s maps, and it was just not as good-looking or easy to use as Google Maps, which had been the default on the iPhone since it was first released in 2007. I tried to chalk it up to my general resistance to forced change, but it really came down to the simple fact that Apple Maps was released before it was ready. Apple’s subsequent apology and the departure of iOS senior vice president Scott Forstall made this clearer.

Now Google Maps is back in the form of an standalone app you can download from the App Store. It’s zippy and even better than it was before. Business information automatically appears on the main map screen, you can use gesture controls, like swiping up to see more detailed information about a location, or swiping a small dotted rectangle on the right side of the screen to pull up options to see traffic, public transit satellite, and Google Earth views. There is no biking directions feature for now, though, or offline mapping. But overall, Google’s new app looks and works great.

But lets put all this navigation drama aside for a minute. Google’s achievment isn’t the end of the road, so to speak, for Apple Maps or other newcomers (such as Nokia’s Here Maps). We now have better mapping options than we did before Apple’s mapping app came out, including several free ones that give decent turn-by-turn directions. While Apple’s Maps isn’t great, it’s going to get better, and it could eventually prove tough competition to Google.

The fact that Google now has some major competition in an area that it pretty much owned previously is likely to make the company innovate more quickly and invest more seriously in making its own product better. In the end, neither Apple nor Google will win these “map wars”-consumers will.

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