Apple may be slowly and quietly improving its Maps software, but Google isn’t exactly playing the part of a shrinking violet: The search giant’s just launched
version 3.0 of Google Maps, a significant update to its free mobile mapping app for both iOS and Android.
Perhaps the best feature of the update is the ability to save certain maps for offline usage. While this was previously possible in a makeshift fashion by trying to frame the map of an area before switching your phone into Airplane Mode, Google’s now codified the functionality by adding a “Save map to use offline” option in the info panes for locations.
These offline maps even allow you to zoom in and out, great for navigating an area on foot when you don’t have a network connection—though you obviously can’t search those surroundings or get directions without a network connection.
If you tap on your profile icon from the main screen, you’ll also see the option to edit your list of offline maps, including the ability to rename, delete, or update them—the app will even tell you how much space they each take up. It’s a great feature, and one I would have found especially handy for international travel when you don’t have access to cellular data—case in point, a trip I made this past weekend to Montreal.
When searching for certain types of places—like restaurants, bars, and hotels—Google Maps now lets you filter your search by users’ ratings, price, or whether the establishment is currently open. It does, however, require a few extra steps: First, search for the type of location, then tap the list icon in the search bar and then tap the filter bar to select your criteria. Additionally, if you sign in to your Google account, you’ll get access to your “Places to review” list, prompting you to enter reviews on Google for places you’ve previously searched for or saved. It’s a none-too-subtle way for Google to encourage you to help fill out its location databases.
The app’s navigation features also get some enhancements in the latest update: You’ll now get warnings for which lane to be in when your exit is coming up, easier access to the overview of your route (and alternate routes) while you’re receiving directions, and a display of the travel time, distance, and estimated arrival time all on the same screen. Public transportation directions now show you the total walking time for your route, as well giving you access to a timetable of the next scheduled buses or trains—those improvements bring Google Maps into closer alignment with its Web-based version.
And just in case you don’t feel like taking public transit or walking once you’ve plotted out those directions, you’ll also now see an option to request an Uber, if you have the app installed on your phone. Just scroll down to the bottom of the route options.
There are a few smaller assorted updates included as well, many of which address erstwhile advantages of Apple’s own Maps app, including integrated voice search (though in my tests, it tended to cut off the beginning of my queries unless I waited a moment), a scale marker in the bottom of the map that auto-adjusts as you zoom in or out, access to your iOS device’s onboard contacts, and the ability to drop a pin anywhere on a map by tapping and holding.
When I first
reviewed the Google Maps app back in late 2012, I gave it a solid rating because it largely blew out of the water Apple’s own offering. In the past year and a half, Google’s continued to update its app with new features like these, making one thing clear: The company’s not waiting to see what Cupertino has up its sleeve for iOS 8; it’s much more concerned with solidifying its lead in the mapping arena, as it does here.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident.