Google rolled out an overhauled update to its Google Maps app last week, with new features they unveiled at Google I/O in May. For the first time, Google Maps is optimized for the iPad. With the new features on board (and an added bonus), let’s take a look to see how the updated maps app looks and works on the bigger screen of the iPad.
When I first switched to the Mac six years ago, life was simple. Using Google’s web services on Apple’s hardware was a match made in heaven. Fast forward five years and that’s when the waters were muddied, with Apple deciding to dump Google for their maps application and starting their own. Now I won’t start a flamewar, but Apple’s maps have a lot of catching up to do to match Google’s maps offering, and with Google Maps version 2.0 the gap between the two just widened.
First, let’s take a look at what’s new. It’s a welcomed change to open Google Maps and see the entire iPad display utilized.
The Search interface has been updated to now overlay on top of the existing map view with its new cards-style UI. When you select a destination the suggested routes are now stacked like cards, you can choose an alternate route in a card underneath the default route.
Perhaps one of the two largest newly added features is live traffic information and rerouting. With each calculated route, there is a live traffic update on the route card. Also added in addition to live traffic information are incident alerts. Examples of this are accidents, road closures, construction, etc.
The other huge update in Google Maps 2.0 is the addition of the new Explore feature. Tap the search bar at the top and you will see an Explore card with labels Eat, Drink, Shop, Play and Sleep. Touch the Explore card and a beautifully designed fullscreen Explore window appears with exploded sections of each of the labels just mentioned. Google’s design language is improving with each iteration of its apps and this is a clear example.
Also added to the iPad optimized version is Indoor Maps. In the screenshot below you can see the two floors of this building are clearly marked in the maps interface. Clicking the floor level on the right shows you the respective floor on the map.
Google’s acquisition of Zagat is well executed in the new app. When you explore to find a destination, albeit a restaurant or coffee shop, a card layout is displayed showing the business name, the Navigation time of arrival, and the Zagat review score and information. Clicking on the card explodes to a fullscreen display of the location, complete with Zagat ratings, user reviews, and map information (photos and Street View).
What I Like
First and foremost what strikes me the most about Google Maps 2.0 is the design and user experience. As an Android user, I’m extremely glad to see Google copy the iOS Maps interface to the Android version of the app. It’s hard to believe Google designed and developed this application. This is the easiest, simplest and most intuitive app Google has made to date.
The most useful update of this version is hands down the live traffic information and rerouting in Navigation. Perhaps many iPad users do not use their iPads for navigation, but the real-time traffic information and the ability to choose alternate routes before navigation is priceless. I use this feature in the new Android version in the car and it has already saved me hours of sitting in traffic. If you’re an Apple Maps user and curious about Google Maps this feature alone is worth switching for.
If you need to get to and from a location in a hurry, perhaps the indoor maps feature could prove worthwhile for you. Say you need to pick up a gift at the mall on your way to a birthday party, you can search the mall in Google Maps (if Google has the information) and see mall store layout ahead of time. This can save you time, and even money!
If you’re still on the fence about Google Maps and you still insist on using Apple Maps, perhaps there’s another feature that can convince you to switch. I’m talking about Street View. You can see an actual 360 degree photo of the location you’re searching for, in addition Google includes a compass mode which lets you see an angled view of the searched area around you, oriented in the direction in which you’re facing or moving. I have hardly used this feature, until I experienced it on my iPad. It’s almost as if Street View was made for tablets, particularly on larger screen tablets. Street View doesn’t look this good on my smaller Nexus 7.
What I Don’t Like
Google removed the ability to save maps offline, or at least made it difficult for the average user (more on that later). This removal is inexplicable and was one of Google Maps’ best features.
I also find the performance of Google Maps 2.0 a bit lacking. This could be due to my iPad 2 being a bit long in the tooth, but I’ve experienced the same issues on my Android devices. The app is janky at times, hopefully Google addresses it in future updates.
Remember when I said Google removed the ability save offline maps? Well, forget what I said, because you can indeed do this with a little trickery (this is Google, remember?). Pan your map you would want to download, then hit the search bar at the top. Type “OK Maps” and tap Search.
(Warning: you have to be at the right zoom level, do not pan out too far)
Android fans revolted the day this version was released for Android, and Google rightfully added the official offline feature back the very next day. Let’s hope they do the same for the iOS version very soon.
As an Android user, I am really starting to appreciate Google’s new unifying design language. All of their apps and services across all devices and platforms are starting to look identical, with their new cards interface design. Google is certainly catching up quickly to Apple in terms of UI design and simplicity. The interface and execution of this app on the sleekness of Apple hardware is the intoxicating combination I experienced as an Apple user six years ago.