Going the Extra Mile Now that Google Maps Have Returned to iOS

In less than 24 hours, Google Maps became the most-downloaded app on the iPhone, as unhappy consumers flocked to the App Store looking for an alternative to the Apple-made application.

iosmapsBut four days later, the reality is setting in that downloading Google Maps won’t result in the same experience as before — that’s because Google Maps is not the iPhone’s default maps program. Apple continues to hold that coveted position.

The arrival of the app on Wednesday was first confirmed by AllThingsD.

Understandably, this disparity could lead to some consumer confusion.

Google Maps was the default application since the smartphone first launched, and remained so until it was kicked off in September as part of the iOS 6 software update.

Now, as users download Google’s map application, they may think that it should function just like before.

After reading reviews in the App Store, the biggest complaint so far has been that contacts are no longer accessible inside of Google Maps.

“Why can’t I access the contacts on my iPhone,” one user asked. “I checked the privacy menu in settings on the phone and maps hasn’t even tried to access them. All of the new features and it won’t let me get directions to my contacts!!” Another user, who goes by the name of Memphis-Drew, wrote: “Since this isn’t a native app anymore, it doesn’t feel fluid. Expected more from Google.”

Overall, Google gets four-plus stars based on nearly 20,000 ratings, so the complaints are relatively minor.

It’s unclear if Google could have included access to the contact list, or if that’s a function that is blocked by Apple, but it should be noted that some of these issues are simply out of Google’s control.

For me, what’s noticeable is how clumsy it is when navigating to an address saved in my calendar. A one-step process has turned into four: To find directions to your next appointment, you must copy the address from the calendar, close the app, open Google maps and paste the address into the search bar. That’s not something I should attempt while driving.

forstall with iOS 6 mapsFollowing the release of Apple Maps, Apple CEO Tim Cook formally apologized to users for MappleGate, and, since then, both mobile software head Scott Forstall and maps manager Rich Williamson have been ousted.

But hoping that Google Maps will be more tightly integrated into some of the operating system’s core activities, like it once was, seems like a stretch for a company that was clearly trying to decrease its dependence on Google with the launch of its own map app.

Is Cook willing to go the extra mile to ensure the user’s happiness by at least giving the consumer a choice of which map it wants to use?

Another thing that consumers will likely notice is that Apple Maps will continue to appear in a number of navigation-heavy applications, like HotelTonight, Yelp or Redfin, just to name a few. In those cases, for directions to a hotel, a restaurant or an open house, the easiest map to use is the one embedded in the application — and by default, that’s Apple Maps.

However, that could be changing soon.

Perhaps as important as the app itself, Google also released a software development kit this week, allowing other app makers to build Google Maps into their programs. Developers interested in doing so can register to get access to the APIs to easily enable their users to search and get directions using Google Maps.

But for now consumers will end up using Apple Maps for a lot of activities, especially if patience is a factor.

That’s especially true since Apple-built applications cannot be deleted from the phone’s operating system. For very diligent people, I found this hack that allows users to hide unwanted Apple applications without jailbreaking your phone. (Note: I did not attempt this myself!) Alternatively, you can also move the app into a folder and bring the Google Maps app to your homepage to make jumping between things easier. That’s pretty simple.

Regardless of your own personal preference, one thing I did learn from the reading dozens of the reviews in the App Store is that a lot of people didn’t find Apple’s mapping application so horrible to begin with. Now that Google is back, they even appreciate some of the new features brought to the table by Apple. As one reviewer said about Google Maps, “All hype, little substance.”

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