What to expect from "amazing Google Maps" for iOS

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
What to expect from
The big story from the iOS announcement a couple weeks ago was that Apple was finally killing off the neglected Google Maps in favor of Apple's proprietary Maps application. One question that we were left wondering was not if, but when Google would re-release Google Maps as a standalone app for iOS. As we said before, the only barricade to Google doing this would be if Apple decides to suddenly ban all maps/navigation apps from the App Store under the anti-competitive rules about creating apps that "duplicate iOS functionality". The same rule which held alternative browsers out of the App Store, and is still keeping back alternative media players. 

We don't expect Apple to take this route, because of the firestorm that would follow in user and media backlash, so that opens up the very likelihood that we'll see Google Maps hit the App Store soon enough. Google's Senior Vice President of Commerce & Local, Jeff Huber, even confirmed recently that Google is committed to "providing an amazing Google Maps experience on iOS". So, this obviously begs the question: What would that "amazing experience" entail? Obviously, Google already has a solid base to work from with the Google Maps app that has been integrated into iOS, which features Google's maps, satellite imagery, traffic, directions, and Street View. So, what else can we expect from a standalone Google Maps app for iOS, now that Google has been unleashed (within Apple's restrictions) to create the Google Maps it really wants?

Turn-by-turn Navigation

This is a no-brainer. This has been a staple for Android users for quite a while now, but never made it to iOS. We can't say if it was Apple holding back Google's updates, or Google refusing to Apple's terms, but the fact is that turn-by-turn navigation is the huge "new-for-Apple" feature that is coming with iOS 6 and Apple Maps. Apple isn't about to ban super popular apps like Waze (especially given that Waze is helping Apple to generate traffic data for its own mapping), so it's pretty much a guarantee that Google will be bringing its own turn-by-turn navigation to iOS, likely with spoken directions as well. 

The two features of Navigation that may or may not make it into the first iteration of Google Maps would be: car dock mode, and traffic avoidance. We certainly expect these features from Google, it's just a matter of how much Google wants to rush in order to get the app into the App Store. Google's philosophy has tended to be "release early, iterate often", which means there may have to be decisions made as to when to release, and what features won't make the cut. We would hope that Google releases a more fully realized product, because the iOS approval process doesn't allow for as fast of an "iterate often" option as Google would normally prefer. 

Alternate travel methods

One of the best of the newer features available for Google Maps is the built-in routes and information from many public transport systems around the world.  For anyone living in a city, having access to public transport directions and info is a huge benefit, and one that Apple Maps cannot replicate right now. The same goes for Google Maps built-in options for giving biking directions. Of course, Apple has a Transport API in its Maps app, and we know that one of the hooks in that will be available at launch will be an app to add biking directions, but as of yet there has been no app that is stepping up to add public transport info. 

Ultimately, because of this API, Apple's offering could eclipse Google's because it allows for hooks in for all kinds of transport services like taxis, ferries, etc., but it is all dependent on 3rd party services hooking in. As Apple has proven in the past, it can make deals with developers to do the work, so we don't expect a situation like Android's People app, which has a great API, but no support. Still, having all of this standard in a Google Maps app would be big compared to having to add-on services with Apple's offering. 

Street View/3D Maps/Indoor Maps

Street View won't be anything new for users who have grown accustomed to Google Maps on iOS, but it is a feature that Apple doesn't have an answer for. One of the best parts of Google Navigation is that when you reach the end of your journey, it will switch to Street View to give you a visual of your destination. This is huge because often the GPS location doesn't quite match your actual location, so the place you are looking for could still be a little bit down the road when the app says, "You have reached your destination." Beyond the useful aspects of it, we all know just how much fun Street View can be when people get caught on camera, and that's something Apple won't be able to offer. 

3D Maps, however, is something that Apple has something of an answer to, with its Flyover feature. It would be a new feature for Google Maps on iOS though, and would be a nice addition to a Google offering. The question here would be whether or not Google would transition its entire library of maps data on iOS to vector graphics or not, like it has on Android. It seems like a good idea, because vector graphics are both more versatile, and faster to load than traditional bitmaps. 

The newest addition to Google Maps data has been indoor maps. This is a feature that's still early beta and doesn't have a lot of coverage outside of some major airports and malls, but if you happen to be in an area that has indoor maps, it can be very helpful (like perhaps CES). This seems like an easy enough feature to add in to an iOS app, because it is mostly dependent on the maps data coming in over-the-air, and it would be a good marketing point for Google, regardless of how useful it actually is. 

Latitude

This is the last feature that we're really expecting from a Google Maps offering in iOS. Location aware apps are allowed to run in the background on iOS, and Latitude has made the jump to iOS as a standalone app, but it is not a very good app. We feel comfortable assuming that deeper Latitude integration was something that Apple blocked, rather than one Google refused to add. There's no way that Apple would have allowed a feature that has become so closely tied with Google+ to be integrated into iOS, but there's no stopping it in a standalone Google Maps app, which is simply a far more fitting place for it to be. 

Latitude as a standalone app is somewhat bare-bones, not to mention the iOS Latitude app is not optimized for the iPad. It's not a bad app, but as we said, it's also not very good. If it were folded into a proper Google Maps app, it would be far more useful. 

Offline Maps

This is one that we do not expect to make the cut in Google Maps for iOS. We don't expect it mostly because it's a feature that hasn't even graduated from a Labs project to a Beta feature with Google Maps for Android just yet, although that transition is expected soon enough. This is another feature where Google has some work to do. As Nokia has proven, there are better ways to do offline maps, namely in being able to download defined regions (cities, states, countries, etc), not just 10 mile radius blocks like Google does. Of course, Google does have the newer feature in Maps where if you search for a neighborhood or county, it will highlight the area on the map, so Google does know where these defined regions are, and just has to make it easier to download more useful chunks. 

Conclusion

Taken all together the features that Google can offer in a standalone Google Maps app for iOS are pretty impressive, especially compared to what is essentially a first generation offering from Apple. As we said before, a lot does depend on how much time Google can put towards this project, and when it wants to have the app in the App Store. Presumably, Google would want it released in time for iOS 6, which is expected to launch with the iPhone 5 and perhaps the iPad mini in September/October. That only gives Google another 3 and a half months or so to work on this. We assume Google has been working on this before the iOS 6 announcement, because if anyone would know for certain that Apple was planning to ditch Google, it would be Google. 

The other issue to consider is just how much it will matter to have a standalone Google Maps app in the App Store. For sure, there will be quite a lot of users who will grab it, but as we've mentioned before, many users are pretty lazy. There are a lot of people out there who rarely, if ever, dive into the App Store and simply use the stock apps. On top of that, Apple is surely going to have pretty solid integration of its Maps app, meaning you will be able to initiate place searches, or even likely navigation from other apps like Safari or your Address Book. Google won't be allowed that kind of integration, because Apple doesn't allow changing the default apps. So, no matter how good Google Maps may be, it may ultimately face the same problem as alternate browsers on iOS, which is that they may be great products, but it doesn't matter much because of the restrictions placed by Apple. Just as it's easier to use Safari because links will always open in Safari, it may end up being too much of a hassle to use Google Maps, because places will open in Apple's Maps. 

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71 Comments

1. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Google maps have been the same since day one. About time Apple ditches them in favor of something better. Google Maps is pretty inaccurate.

2. kanagadeepan

Posts: 1273; Member since: Jan 24, 2012

Yes... Apple's MAPS are very very ACCURATE... Go follow it and jump from the bridge, as told by APPLE's wonderful MAPS...

3. appleDOESNT.com

Posts: 456; Member since: Nov 19, 2011

Street view (mapped/photographed most of the world by now) sat view, indoor view, 3d view, offline mode.. yep, just about the same since day one :/

4. PhoneArenaUser

Posts: 5498; Member since: Aug 05, 2011

"Google maps have been the same since day one." Don't piss against the wind loser... Timeline growth of Google Maps:http://goo.gl/tF9cL

5. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

See, all you had to do was say "Google Maps *ON iOS* have been the same since day one." Then you wouldn't have been a troll aimed at starting a flame war. Instead, you get a warning.

31. Ivan6479

Posts: 250; Member since: Jun 26, 2011

Lol Well said Michael. I was thinking the same thing. Unfortunately for Apple users, Google Maps has been the same and this is why Apple users haven't been able to fully enjoy all of the benefits and improvements that Google Maps has made over time, but with this bit of news it just might change for them. Honestly though, instead of people complaining about Google Maps not changing (on iOS) they could have just owned an Android and they'd already be enjoying all of these great features. :)

47. Mxyzptlk unregistered

Why would I have to say that when the article is ABOUT iOS? So obviously I'm talking about iOS. Not my fault if the readers take offense to every thing said about Google.

70. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

READ on category "apple" "android"

6. RangersK

Posts: 68; Member since: May 15, 2012

He means "Google maps have been the best since day one."

7. Sangeet

Posts: 232; Member since: Apr 21, 2012

Dumbest comment of the Day, Everyone Clap..!! Yet another one not knowing anything, really we have lot's of people like you. For you the link y PhoneArenaUser is a must to check

11. tedkord

Posts: 17453; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Yes, it has been the same since day one - better than anything Apple offers. And it still is.

19. sawilson

Posts: 12; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

iOS has been the same since day one. About time Apple ditches it in favor of something better. iOS is pretty unstable.

59. miguel6632

Posts: 21; Member since: May 25, 2012

agreed the same in the iphone not on andoid

8. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

Google had been anti competitive by withholding navigation from iOS. It only made sense for Apple to come up with their own navigation. You're articles are terribly long winded to the point where they're unreadable.

12. mas11

Posts: 1034; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

Are you kidding me?! Michael Heller's articles are some of the best and most insightful articles. You just don't like Google Maps because it has the word, "Google" in it. I beleive the anti competitive company would be the one that doesn't allow you to use 3rd party apps because they "duplicate iOS functionality." Google is more than happy to allow 3rd party roms and apps.

14. nnaatthhaannx2

Posts: 820; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

You beat me to it.

18. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

I actually like Google maps and use it all the time

22. mas11

Posts: 1034; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

But I'm sure once Apple's maps are released you will say they are way better. And don't insult Michael just because you disagree with him.

13. leftheodo

Posts: 108; Member since: Oct 21, 2011

"Google had been anti competitive" LOL! We all know which company is constantly suing the competition cause it's stuck in 2007. ps: Before you go "Google copied Apple blah blah...." take a look at iOS 5 and 6 "new" features and tell me who's copying here.

15. PhoneArenaUser

Posts: 5498; Member since: Aug 05, 2011

True.

17. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

iOS 6 has copied nothing from Google. Fandroids don't get it. Having the same feature isn't copying. It's how it's implemented. Do you think Google copied for having a web browser and email? Also if Google is open source why didn't they allow Apple to have google navigation? That's anti competitive behavior

33. sithman

Posts: 299; Member since: Apr 21, 2012

Excellent post my man, very well put.

20. sawilson

Posts: 12; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

I always like hearing about the new Android features in iOS. Apple isn't very good at making operating systems. OS9 was horrible. So is iOS. Instead of copying android, they should just use it. Apple is a hardware company. They should let the experts write operating systems.

24. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

apple has been writing sw since the 80's and are the only real alternative to Microsoft. I think they know what they're doing. They also revolutionized the smartphone and now android is following their footsteps. Big screens and processors isn't innovation.

28. sawilson

Posts: 12; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

Apple couldn't figure out operating systems. Os9 sucked. They had to reskin bsd Unix to make osx. I'm sorry the facts disagree with your perception of reality. Apple has been very innovative at copying android features poorly.

36. Non_Sequitur

Posts: 1111; Member since: Mar 16, 2012

Yes... It's about time that someone speaks the truth. OS X isn't original at all.

37. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

Hmm android was built just like blackberry until iPhone came out and then android became just like iOS. #fact

52. sawilson

Posts: 12; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

Android came out first. There's proof all over the net. Why not use Google or perhaps Apple's search engine to find it. So because of that, everything apple did would be copying android. Since it came out first.

32. LostInTheRed

Posts: 85; Member since: May 03, 2012

I usually try to stay out of troll wars going on, but I had to say something this time. "Having the same feature isn't copying." From all the posts from you I've read, you've base most of your "Android copied" arguements on Android simply having a similar feature. (eg, S-Voice/Siri) Also on your "Big screens and processors isn't innovation" arguement isn't really much of one. My retort: implementing features that have been available since Android began, (before it was actually called Android) isn't innovation either. Apple was innovative and great up to the 3GS, but since, have innovated nothing and has come up with nothing really new.

35. mas11

Posts: 1034; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

I completely agree, up until November of 2009 (when the OG DROID came out) the iPhone was hands down the best phone on the market.

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