Google Maps for iOS has just hit Apple’s App Store and already it appears to be a massive hit. Of some 10,000 customer reviews of the app, over 9,000 have been 4- or 5-star, and my first impression of the app bears that out. I was initially afraid I wouldn’t be able to write this review at all, since I don’t have any iOS 6 devices yet. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the app only requires iOS 5.1 and above, and supports iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S and 5, as well as 3rd, 4th and 5th generation iPod touch and all iPad generations (although it’s not optimized for iPad yet).
The look and feel of the iOS version of the app is lean, clean and necessary, like a samurai sword — or an app designed by Apple itself. Yeah, it’s that pretty. The iOS version has a link with Google Earth that the Android version doesn’t have. Conversely, Android’s version has multiple layers, some of which are tied into the Google ecosystem and aren’t present in the iOS version. The Android version also has the ability to make an area available offline, which the iOS version does not.
The first navigation test I gave the app was a bit of a trick question, to be honest. I live in the Portland, Oregon metro area, about a mile away from a shopping mall with a light rail park and ride station. However, that mall happens to be Clackamas Town Center, which was the site of a tragic shooting a couple of days ago. What that’s meant for commuters is that this particular light rail station has been closed since Tuesday afternoon and isn’t likely to re-open until the mall itself opens for business again.
I fed both versions of the app my husband’s work commute information, which usually consists of him driving to the park and ride at the mall, then catching the train into downtown Portland. Both apps showed the TriMet alert about the closed station, but the Android version was quicker at first to suggest an alternate light rail station for the trip. That said, the iOS app seemed to update within an hour or so, and subsequent downtown trips I threw at it gave me the same information as the Android version. One other small aside is that the Android version helpfully lists the price of the light rail trip, which the iOS version did not. That information is certainly helpful if you’re navigating a new city on your own, with only your faithful mobile device as a companion.
Since this is just a first look at the app, I didn’t take the time to fully road test the Navigation feature under driving conditions. However, I did plug a driving route into both the iOS and Android versions of the app, and then walked out my door and towards my car. The Android app’s pushy GPS voice piped right up about what the first maneuvers of the drive should be. The iOS version, on the other hand, had nothing to say, and I was unable to find controls that would allow me to turn on voice guidance, even after verifying that location services for Google Maps was enabled and consulting the in-app help menus. (And may I say that it should NOT take 5 taps to get to a damn help menu! That’s a fail for the iOS version, and Google should know better…).
On a side note… the app actually announces the directions over your Bluetooth connected speaker!
This is a good first version of Google Maps on iOS, and it’s not likely to strand anyone in the wilderness. It’s just not great yet and it has at least one glaring flaw that precludes its use for turn-by-turn directions. I’m sure there will be updates aplenty, and soon, to rectify this. It’s just unfortunate to have such a major feature not immediately work on one of the most iconic mobile devices in the world. Google Maps for iOS is kind of like that cheerleader you had a crush on in high school — pretty to look at and totally put together, but not quite as smart as you’d like her to be.