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Posted at 2:43 PM ET, 12/16/2010

Google updates Android Maps app, making iPhone maps look even older

By Rob Pegoraro

The holiday season just got crummier for manufacturers of GPS receivers: Google shipped a major update to its Google Maps application for Android phones that adds limited offline support.

For the first time, you don't always need an active network connection. As Google's blog post and press page explain, the new Google Maps 5 caches frequently-used map data -- displayed using far more efficient graphics -- for offline viewing, and its navigation component can reroute you even if you lose a signal on the road.

google_maps_5_android.jpg

Those are huge improvements, worth firing up an Android phone's Market program now to get this update instead of waiting for Android to notify you about it.

If you have a newer device with a faster processor, Google Maps 5 brings some nifty multi-touch and 3-D features. Twirl two fingers around the screen and the map rotates accordingly; slide two fingers and the view pivots away from straight overhead to a three-quarter perspective. If you zoom into a major city, outlines of buildings pop up from the ground while you scroll along, as if you were having a great year in SimCity.

(Those building models can be out of date. In the photo above, Google doesn't show the office building that opened just north of The Post in 2007; instead, it portrays The Post parking deck that filled the lot before.)

There's another group of people who may not be so thrilled about this update: iPhone owners. The version of Google Maps preinstalled on Apple's smartphone looked out of date before, lacking such Android mapping features as turn-by-turn navigation and bicycling directions; now it's even worse.

Google hasn't quit developing apps for the iPhone -- it shipped its Latitude location-sharing program Monday and finally got Google Voice on the App Store in November. But its most prominent iPhone program function looks a little neglected.

(6:08 p.m. A reader asked on Twitter if I shouldn't blame Apple alone. That's unclear. Google consistently talks about bringing new map features to other platforms, the iPhone included. On the other hand, the iPhone's Maps app can only be updated through iTunes, not an App Store download. It's bad news for iPhone users either way, but I've revised the previous paragraph to reflect this ambiguity.)

In other mobile-application news:

* Microsoft shipped updated versions of its Bing search application for the iPhone and Android -- but not for its own Windows Phone 7 operating system -- that incorporate some useful new in-app features, such as being able to place a reservation at a restaurant through OpenTable or order takeout through GrubHub. The considerably sleeker iPhone app can, among other things, also remind you when you're near a preset establishment, display "Streetside" panoramas, and show real-time transit info in Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

* Speaking of, Greater Greater Washington reported earlier this week that Metro should finally show up in Google Maps transit directions in January. (Bing Maps already offers this.)

* The Android Market has a redesign coming that may make it easier to find an app or widget you like. In the bargain, however, the Market's mandatory 24-hour refund window will be cut to 15 minutes. To judge from such reactions as the comments in Lifehacker's post, users aren't happy about that.

If you've tried the new Google or Bing apps, how do you like them? If not, what phone application do you use to steer you around the world?

By Rob Pegoraro  | December 16, 2010; 2:43 PM ET
Categories:  Location awareness, Mobile, Shopping  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Google Nexus S review
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Comments

We tried to scrooge our way out of international roaming charges this past fall by downloading google map routes over wifi in motels and it actually worked pretty well. Gave the route anyway.

But of course I am d-l'ing the update right now, thanks for the heads-up!

Posted by: HardyW | December 16, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

There are several problems with using one's phone for GPS services. The biggie, of course, is the thing's not waterproof, and therefore cannot be used outside. That might not be a problem for some, but it's a deal breaker for me. The other deal breaker is the fact that I cannot lay out routes that I might want to follow. I'd be obligated to go the way Google, or whomever, thought was the best way to go. I'm a motorcyclist. I want to go MY way, not Google's.

Thanks, but I'll be sticking to my Garmin 550, which I can use on my bike and in any car.

Posted by: henwin | December 16, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

There are several problems with using one's phone for GPS services. The biggie, of course, is the thing's not waterproof, and therefore cannot be used outside. That might not be a problem for some, but it's a deal breaker for me. The other deal breaker is the fact that I cannot lay out routes that I might want to follow. I'd be obligated to go the way Google, or whomever, thought was the best way to go. I'm a motorcyclist. I want to go MY way, not Google's.

Thanks, but I'll be sticking to my Garmin 550, which I can use on my bike and in any car.

Posted by: henwin | December 16, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

I like Google's mapping features for the Droid2. I downloaded the latest one today and the interface and mapping seemed faster. Hopefully Google will continue to get faster with the updates of locations. In the past the issue has been an inability to use the mapping function when a client wants to see new construction. Google couldn't find the location when other mapping services could...time will tell if this has changed in the latest iteration.

Posted by: walidmrealtor | December 16, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Apple and it's iPhone users shouldn't complain. Google can only develop apps on one OS at a time. See? If only iPhone used Android OS then they'd most likely get Google Maps 5 update the same time as other Android devices that have Android 2.3 installed. That'll teach 'em.

Posted by: jackdaniels08 | December 17, 2010 3:07 AM | Report abuse

There's an (iPhone/iPad) ap for that: It's called UpNext and its free. It gives you marvelous 3D images of certain cities with the ability to search for various services (food, nightlife, transit etc). The only problem I've discovered so far is not enough cities are available but they will come.

Posted by: BTinSF | December 17, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

hey, jd-

google can only develop one platform app a time? i assume you joke, since the last time i looked google had at least a couple of dozen employees.

happy holidays to all!

Posted by: shabbyreader | December 17, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

This needs to be developed for the iPhone. The
advantage then would be the iPhone because of the much better screen resolution over Android phones.

Posted by: magnifco1000 | December 17, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

I have a mount in my vehicle for my android and Google Navigation. The most glaring problem is that I cannot save map points as favorites. This and the fact that the GPS sucks so much juice out of the battery the auto charger cannot keep up with it. A few hours of GPSing around and my battery is dead.

I am going to have to go back to a dedicated GPS. Shame on Google for not letting you save map points.

Posted by: 2nickels | December 18, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Google should be careful about ignoring it's customer base on the iPhone. Allowing the competition to gain a foothold on the iPhone could be bad for business down the road. Already Microsoft has a decent competitor to Google in Bing, and maps competitors like Mapquest now have a great free turn by turn GPS app for iPhone users. The longer Google let's it's base erode on the iPhone the quicker it will lose marketshare to competition, first on the iPhone and then on it's own Android OS.

Posted by: macross2 | December 20, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

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