With its latest Maps app update, Google giveth and Google taketh away.
Let’s start with what we’re getting. Google Maps for Android is now optimized for tablets, which means your Google Nexus 7 is an even better GPS navigation device. Google says its iOS app will soon support larger iPad screens, which will be great for iPad mini owners. However, it’s not clear when this will happen. Google has only said the iOS update will be available “soon.” (The new Maps Android app requires Android Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean.)
A new ‘explore’ feature presents cards for places to eat, drink, stay, and shop. To access the cards, type a term such as ‘restaurants’ in the Google Maps search box. This feature, which works well and adds nicely organized information to Maps, essentially integrates the card interface of Google Now into Google Maps. There’s a new 5.0 star rating system for restaurants, bars, and cafes from people in your Google+ network, which helps you make informed choices.
Google says it has also added reports of traffic problems on the road, so you can get the low-down on the slowdown. Google Maps will also alert you if a more efficient route is available to your destination and will reroute you. In my tests yesterday, I wasn’t able to experience these features, as I didn’t encounter any traffic snags to my destination and back. But if this works as Google says? Awesome.
Now, about the ‘taketh away’ stuff. Upon release of Google Maps for Android, the company had removed its offline maps browsing feature—causing an immediate outcry among users and a flurry of one-star reviews for the app on Google Play store. Google has since restored this feature.
Google also deep-sixed its Latitude feature, which let users share their locations with others. Though Latitude now rests in peace, Google says location sharing can be accomplished through its Google+ network.
All that said, I’m looking forward to using Google Maps on my iPad mini—which makes for a terrific GPS device (you must have a mini with built-in cellular wireless connectivity to get GPS). I just wish Google Maps were better at directions. Just last month, Google Maps inexplicably had me drive down a country road in Virginia toward my destination, turn around, and head straight back to the main road that I’d just turned off of miles earlier. Whenever I leave my home in San Francisco, Google Maps tells me to hang a left, then a right, and then a left to get to Market Street, when all I have to do is go right. But maybe that’s for a future app update.