Google improved Google Maps for iPhone, it’s also brought that same free app to three machines that never had it: the iPad, Android phones and Android tabletsA Better Google Maps App for Apple and Android Devices - NYTimes.com
Google Map’s new directory buttons.
Our story so far: Last September, Apple decided to dump the Google Maps app that had been on the iPhone for years. Apple replaced it with its own Maps app — software with so many problems that Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, apologized and even recommended that people use other apps until Apple could fix its own one.
In December — incredibly quickly — Google responded by introducing its own Maps app for iPhone. It’s a spectacular app, among the best apps ever written. It’s fast, beautiful and so good at guessing what you mean when you start typing a destination, it’s almost mind reading. You can read the details here.
Today, that delightful news gets even better. Not only has Google improved Google Maps for iPhone, it’s also brought that same free app to three machines that never had it: the iPad, Android phones and Android tablets. (The Android versions are available for download today; it requires the Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean version of Android — recent versions, in other words. The iOS versions will be available shortly.)
For Androidians, the biggest news is the design of the app itself. It’s modeled on the iPhone app, the one that’s simple and fast and elegant. It’s also uncluttered by the morass of menus that have always plagued the existing Maps app for Android.
But for practitioners of all religions — tablet, phone, iOS, Android — the other news is the new features that today’s new version brings. They include:
* Greater speed. All app versions are faster than before.
* Better place information. Half the time, you don’t even need navigation instructions; you just use Google Maps as the world’s smartest Yellow Pages, to find a nearby restaurant, movie theater, drugstore or whatever.
The details for found places now include a one-line description (“Chinese restaurant famous for dim sum”); a five-star rating system (including a decimal — “4.3,” for example — because, let’s face it, almost everything these days winds up with a four-star rating); the ability to upload your own photos of a place; and a more complete integration of the Zagat guides, which Google bought.
* Greater emphasis on exploration. Google Maps has always excelled at getting you to a known destination. But Google now wants the app to help you choose a restaurant, bar, store, recreation center or hotel, at least in major United States and European cities.
If you tap in the Search box without typing anything, new, photographic buttons appear: Eat, Drink, Shop, Play, Sleep. Each opens lists of corresponding facilities, sorted by criteria like Local Favorites, Popular with Tourists and so on. (Google says that these recommendations are never paid placement.)
* Traffic incidents and auto-rerouting. At last: Google Maps shows more than colored lines indicating current traffic speeds on major roads. Now it also displays tiny icons that represent accidents and construction. Tap one to read the details: “Right lane blocked on 680,” for example. (In case you were wondering, the information on traffic incidents doesn’t come from Waze, the traffic-incident app that Google recently bought. That data has yet to be incorporated into Maps.)
Better yet: Maps now looks ahead for traffic jams on your route, and interrupts your drive with a dialog box that offers to route you around it (if the new path would be quicker, of course). On its own.
* Offline maps. This feature is something of an Easter egg. It’s undocumented, a feature inserted by Google engineers simply because they wanted it. You can access it only if you know the secret. But wow, is it worth it.
This feature memorizes the map data for whatever area is displayed on your screen right now (up to a whole city in size). That way, you can use Google Maps even when you’re overseas and don’t want to turn on data roaming (because that’s insanely expensive), or when you’re in an area where there’s no cell reception. It’s very handy.
To capture a map snapshot like this, tap in the Search box. Use the speech-recognition button and say, “OK Maps.” (It’s a riff on the command “OK Glass” that prepares Google Glass, the company’s “smart headband,” for voice commands.)
A message quietly lets you know you’ve successfully stored the displayed area.
*Nice tablet layouts. On a tablet, Maps really shines. The app smartly reformats itself to take best advantage of whatever screen shape you have: two or three columns of place listings, for example, and luxuriously displayed photos and reviews for each business.
This new, improved Maps app works identically on both major flavors of phone and tablet. You know what? I don’t care how much you distrust Google and its motives. This is crazy good software, some the best work Google has ever done.
Read the article online here: Better Google Maps App for Apple and Android Devices - NYTimes.com