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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Google Maps for iPhone Saves the Day

When it comes to iPhone mapping: Google 1, Apple 0.

  • December 13, 2012

I’m going to try to navigate this post without making too many mapping puns, but I fear I’ve already taken a wrong turn.

You know by now the Apple Maps fiasco (see “Fixing Apple Maps”). Apple’s failure with that product opened the door for Google to provide something to fill the gap, and to judge by reviews coming out today, it has done a splendid job. (I can’t vouch firsthand, alas–see, ahem, “I’m Going Back to My ‘Dumb’ Phone–Should You?”)

David Pogue–who excoriated Apple Maps–says of Google’s product that it’s “free, fast and fantastic.” He points out that Google has a real competitive advantage in having long culled the data that underlies a great maps app; it’s simply hacked this data problem in a way no one else quite has. And that data keeps coming in; to report an error in the new app, you simply shake your phone, he writes.

Pogue waxes rhapsodic over how smart Google Maps for iPhone is (it can parse a command like “200 W 79, NYC” without accidentally sending you to Connecticut), and particularly loves the cleanliness and simplicity of the directions it gives, for driving, walking, and public transport. He loves the design overall, and lauds Google’s ability to cram in new features while still keeping the design “slick, simple and coherent.” He sums up the app as a “home run”–though regrets that you do have to give up seamless Siri integration in using it.

Pogue’s praise is echoed around the web. The Telegraph calls it “essential for iPhone users,” though notes that Google is a little pushy about wanting to gather more data on you (“there are frequent prompts” to log in to your Google account while navigating). SlashGear appreciates the satellite imagery and Google Earth integration. Business Insider loves how contextually sensitive the app is; when he wants to go to the nearby Café Medina, reviewer Jay Yarow needs only type in “Medina” without fearing he’ll be sent to Saudi Arabia.

The app rapidly became the most-downloaded in Apple’s app store, inside of 12 hours, says the Guardian.

Kevin Roose at NYMag offers the lone note of semi-dissent. He had appreciated the little mapping startups that had surged a tad in popularity following Mapsgate (he especially liked one called Waze), and regrets that these apps are probably now toast. He further speculates that Apple might ultimately offer the superior product, if only its data set can catch up.

That may be so, but in a week where the Australian police actually had to issue a warning against using Apple Maps, since it was essentially sending people on involuntary walkabouts, Google emerges as the clear winner–for now.

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