Amid weak reviews of Apple Maps, Google offers alternative

The search titan says it will update Google Maps for Android today to enable cross-device synchronization and other features.

Apple's new Maps app has been praised for its look but criticized for its lack of native transit directions.
Apple's new Maps app has been praised for its look but criticized for its lack of native transit directions. Screenshot by Casey Newton/CNET

Reviews of Apple's new maps application are in, and they aren't great.

Everyone praises the app's look and feel, but critics have said it is inferior to the app it replaced in important ways. CNET's Jason Parker said users would likely miss Google Maps. "Not only are Google Maps no longer integrated, but also you're further walled into Apple's ecosystem," he wrote.

Harsher notes were sounded by All Things D's Walt Mossberg, who called it the "biggest drawback" of the iPhone 5. Daring Fireball's John Gruber labeled the app "a downgrade," and Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslavsky found it was "too easily confused, especially in urban areas."

City-dwellers are particularly rankled that the app provides no native transit directions, instead redirecting users to third-party apps.

Well wouldn't you know it, but Google is reminding people today that it has an alternative. Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for maps at Google, told the New York Times that an update to Google Maps for Android coming today would include a host of new features, including the ability to synchronize across devices.

If you search for a location on your desktop while signed into Google, that location will pop up as a recent search inside the Google Maps app on your phone, saving you from having to type out the address again on your phone. Previous searches will show up inside the app under the heading "My Places," and users can save various locations using "work," "home" and other labels.

Apple doesn't have a desktop maps application, of course, giving Google an edge over its rival.

The Times notes that Google's app is also better at auto-completing partial queries and allowing people to make edits using Google Map Maker.

Still unanswered is whether Google will build a standalone Maps app for iOS. McClendon wouldn't say.

Google could decide against building an iOS app in order to give consumers a compelling reason to choose Android devices over the iPhone. Maps has long been a competitive advantage for Google, and making it Android-only could help keep it way.

But there's a disadvantage, too. Scott Rafer, CEO of mapping application company Lumatic, notes in a blog post that Google relies on its users to get data that is invaluable for improving the maps experience.

"More than half of Google's mobile map usage is going away in the next month or two," Rafer said. "Usage makes maps better a lot faster than software does."

That's a big reason we might see Google Maps back on iOS after all, and soon.

 

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