Google Maps for iPhone explored

It has been a long time coming, but Google Maps for iPhone has finally arrived. Promising to fix all of our directional woes, the new app brings turn-by-turn navigation, Street View and all of Google’s other mapping niceties back to the iPhone.

It's available to download now on the App store, and Pocket-lint has had a lengthy play with the app since launch. The good news is we haven’t got lost: a promising start for any mapping app. So how does it handle?

Turn by turn directions

For the iOS mapping app, Google has adopted a similar look to that of Jelly Bean and its latest Android apps.

Clean and simple, with well-spoken and easy to understand directions, it strikes us as one of the best ways to navigate. You pick a destination, or choose from your search history and then the app will offer up a few route options.

Pick one, hit start and you are away. At the top of the screen is a set of written directions. Swiping left and right with this will move you forward and back between each direction change in the journey. At the bottom right, there is a options menu which lets you see a step-by-step list of directions and unmute voice guidance.

Directions can also be done for public transport. This covers everything from buses to Underground networks and even the walks in between. It even shows timings for certain buses and trains.

For walking, the app will follow you with a blue dot, almost exactly the same as how things are done with driving. The difference is that you can’t see a full list of directions. We particularly like that the app will show upcoming direction changes below the most immediate one, which It lets you prepare for what's ahead.

Search

One of the main issues we had with Apple’s mapping app is its lack of information and locations that are searchable. Google trumps it almost immediately with detailed information provided on any search.

A look at Piccadilly Circus, for example, not only shows the location itself, but also a card view of such as like Street View, photos, a local website and reviews of nearby shops and sights.

In some cases this goes even further with the ability to read things like restaurant reviews on Zagat as well as see menus and, in some cases, even images inside the restaurant itself. You can even share the search as a message, email or copy it to your clipboard. It can also be saved as a favourite location.

The maps

Mildura in Australia, the site of the most recent iOS 6 maps debacle, is very different on Google Maps. Originally, Apple Maps had been sending people to a wilderness 40 miles from its actual location, leading to Australian police warning about using it.

This problem has now been rectified, but the difference in detail for an area so remote is very apparent. It also shows clearly just how much more map information there is in Google Maps. You get detailed street names and even some local businesses and amenities such as hospitals and golf courses. With Apple Maps, the hospitals are missing.

The app also lets you switch out to Google Earth, should you want an even more detailed view of an area. You can also use Street View, drop location pins and see a satellite view of the map very easily. All this is accessed with a two-finger swipe to one side.

Can I get my iPhone to default to Google Maps?

Not at the moment.. Apple is unlikely ever to remove Apple Maps as the default mapping option on the iPhone. In other words, just because you've been able to download Google Maps for iPhone as a replacement, every time you click on address in your browser or in an email, your handset will still try to show you where it is by clicking through to the Apple Maps version.

That also goes for any app that requires maps. Runkeeper, for instance, is still stuck with Apple Maps. The good news is that it's fixable, because Google Maps for iPhone also has an SDK for iPhone app developers to start to use. In other words, we should see some app updates soon steering you towards Google Maps by default once more.

READ: Apple iPhone 5 review

How can I get it?

Google Maps is available on the App Store now and is compatible with any device running iOS 5.1 or further. It runs on the iPhone 3GS and higher, bringing turn-by-turn directions to both that handset and the iPhone 4, both of which didn’t benefit from directions in Apple’s app.