Yes, Google Maps for iPhone is here. (If you haven't downloaded it already, what the f**k are you doing reading this?) It's a great day for all of humanity, worthy of a public holiday and street-parties galore. In fact, Google Maps for iPhone is SO AWESOME even Google admit it kicks Android Map's butt.
Much as I love Google Maps on Android, with all its fully-featured goodness, it isn't half confusing. The original UI has been added to for years, bolting more and more features on like a precarious pack of cards. It works, sure, but the Maps for iPhone app shows it up big-time. On Android, accessing a new "layer" of information is like opening a new window -- search for "Indian restaurant" and you basically get a new map tab with all the information in it. The result of this is that you can't get at all the big, important menus -- like the ones that allow you to add traffic or public transport information -- without going back and losing your search results.
All this ends up with a disjointed user experience. Having to play Where's Wally with the menu buttons, or having different functions when you hunt them down, is just plain frustrating. More than anything then, Android maps are lacking simplicity and consistency.
All this is fixed with Google Maps for iPhone. The user interface is nothing short of gorgeous. The app feels slick and smooth (more on that later), and the display is refreshingly clear of irritating pop-ups, keeping the key product -- that big, shiny, wonderfully correct Google Map of Awesomeness -- front and centre.
Of course, Google Maps isn't perfect. Apparently, it sometimes sends coachloads of Australian children to their doom. But, never fear iPhone users, Google feels your pain. If you want to report an issue with the map, you don't have to dig through obscure menus -- just shake the phone (which is also a pretty good outlet for mapping-induced rage), and you get a pretty little pop-up to tell Auntie Google what the problem is.
This is my favourite big change with the iPhone app. Search for something, and rather than getting a pop-up that you have to click on to get the skinny about that fancy new Indian, there's an information bar at the bottom of the screen displaying the name, rating and average price of a meal; slide the bar up, and you get more info. I'm in love with the damn thing. I could sit there all day, sliding the bar up and down, up and down, up and down....you get the idea. If you swipe the bar side to side, you can scroll through all the search results. (If you want to see all the results in a list, hit the button next to the search term in the search bar at the top of the page.)
Android maps have a small ad at the top of the page. At the moment, the iPhone map doesn't. It's a small thing, but it adds to the sleek and clean nature of the design. I don't know why Google are sparing us in the iPhone app -- maybe they're trying to entice us all in? (Who am I kidding. Their poor servers are probably groaning under the weight of a thousand disgruntled Apple Maps users right now.)
It's a minor difference, but comparing an iPhone 4S and a Nexus 4 side-by-side -- a test that should favour the Nexus and its significantly superior processing power -- the iPhone seems to scale the maps more smoothly -- even though the Nexus had the advantage of offline maps. Android maps still feels a tiny bit like a bitmap solution -- you still get the feeling it's using tiles -- whereas the iPhone app is clearly using those vector maps that we know and love so dearly.
But, before you go chucking your shiny new Android away and
selling your soul to the devil going and buying an iPhone, Android still has the upper hand in a few regards. Most importantly, remember that Android is Google's cherished first-born. Though Google is currently lavishing the iOS prodigal son with many fattened calves and mapping wizadry, you can bet that there's a team of Google engineers working on a beautiful new version of Maps for Android that will probably look a lot like the iPhone app.
Give it a bit of time, and I'm sure Android will be right back where Google wants it. In the mean time, Android users still have a few things to gloat about -- most notably, offline maps (also known as nirvana to people going abroad) cycling integration for those fitness freaks among you, and significantly higher-res Street View images (compare the two images of Big Ben below: Android's still ruling the roost here).
Nexus 4 top, iPhone 4S bottom
So today is a great day. Not only can I hide Apple Maps far, far away and never look at the godforsaken thing ever again, but rest assured that Maps on Android is going to get a gorgeous revamp in the near future. Vive la change.