Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google Maps for iPhone

As expected, here it is. The Verge has a good overview.

There’s a lot to like in this app. Google’s spent the past year creating a unique aesthetic for their iOS apps, and they’ve done their best work with Maps. It doesn’t look quite like it belongs on the platform — the design is pretty clearly influenced by both Google’s Android apps and their web services — but it’s a nice approach.

The data is the same as Google’s website, which is a boon for some of you, and less satisfying for others (me, for example). While public transit directions are available for Calgary on the web, they’re not available in the iOS app. While Apple’s Maps app has full 3D coverage of Calgary’s buildings, Google has no 3D coverage, though they recently re-created their Street View photos for my city. And while it’s nice to have Street View back, it isn’t as elegantly implemented as it was in the previous maps app for iOS 5, nor is as well implemented as on Google’s web maps.

Update: Someone just let me know that I should tap the rotating arrows button in the lower-left. That gyro rotation is hella cool within Street View. Nice touch.

There are some additional issues with the interface, too. It’s incredibly laggy when panning or zooming even the basic map. The two-finger gesture for changing the angle of the map in a 3D plane is the opposite of the one used in Apple’s app, and it’s really awkward. It doesn’t feel like your fingers are manipulating the map directly.

And, since this is Google, changing privacy options is a giant pain in the ass. How much? These are the actual steps you must take to turn off location tracking if you didn’t deselect it when installing the app:

  1. Tap on the silhouette in the upper-right, on the edge of the search bar.
  2. Tap on the gear.
  3. Tap on “About, terms & privacy”.
  4. Tap on “Terms & privacy”.
  5. Tap on “Location data collection”.
  6. Toggle the switch to turn it off.

Six layers deep to prevent Google’s wide-ranging use of that data.

It may sound like I’m being harsh on this app. On the contrary, there’s a lot I really like about it. Its data is generally more accurate for Calgary (despite putting our airport in amongst skyscrapers downtown), and it’s finally using smoothly-scalable vector tiles. But it’s not, for my day-to-day use, going to replace Apple’s app. The built-in app offers the advantage of integrating with Siri and other services, its data is still reasonably accurate for my purposes, and it’s more polished than Google’s app.

I think these new mapping applications asked us to look more carefully at their data, too. I’m not suggesting that the problems with Apple’s maps are inflated or imagined — for many places, it’s indeed significantly less accurate than Google’s data — but I think that we are now more acutely aware of information that appears incorrect. These apps have made it less likely for us to blindly trust them.