Apple 2.0

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10 cool things about Google's new Maps app for iPhone

December 13, 2012: 8:50 AM ET

For starters, it usually takes you where you meant to go

Google Maps for iPhone.

Google Maps for iPhone.

FORTUNE -- On Wednesday, 84 days after Apple (AAPL) shot itself in the foot by replacing its original mobile Maps app with a Google-free version that wasn't ready for prime time, Google (GOOG) announced that a new, all-Google Maps app was available as a free download. The rush to get it was so intense that by late Wednesday it had temporarily disappeared from the App Store.

The new Google Maps app is back now, and it's pretty cool. Here are 10 things we like about it:

  • Turn-by-turn voice driving directions. This is the feature that Google put on Android devices but not on the iPhone, forcing Apple's hand. Now both Maps apps have it, and Google's has some nicer features, like the ability to look ahead in map view.
  • Street view. It's a little hard to find (you have to search for a location or drop a pin, then swiping up to see it), but street view there. Apple would have to send camera-equipped cars up and down the byways of the world to match it.
  • Built-in transit directions. Apple's app sends users to third-party apps for train, bus and subway directions, which is a pain. Now Google Maps turns up in Apple Maps as one of those third-party options, which is ironic.
  • Support for iOS 5 as well as the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. Apple Maps -- for good or ill -- is an iOS 6 exclusive.
  • Compass mode, which lets you swing your iPhone around and see the world through Google's eyes in 360-degree panorama.
  • Vector-based maps (not bitmapped, as before). This matches Apple's Maps, taking away one of its few advantages.
  • Zagat restaurant reviews and menus and, for some eateries, photos of interiors. Apple partnered with Yelp. Now you have a choice.
  • A direct link to Google Earth, and all that app has to offer.
  • Software hooks so that third party developers can add their information to Google's database. Apple, as usual, runs a closed shop.
  • Shake your iPhone to give Google feedback. A nice touch.

What's missing: An iPad version (although the iPhone app at 2x looks fine), bicycle routes, offline usage and the helicopter fly-over views that feature so heavily in Apple's promotions.

Google Maps on the App Store.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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