Google updates Android Maps app, making iPhone maps look even older
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.
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(Those building models can be out of date.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 The version of Google Maps preinstalled on Apple's smartphone looked out of date before, lacking such Android mapping features as turn-by-turn navigation and bicycling directions; now it's even worse.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?
| December 16, 2010; 2:43 PM ET
Categories: Location awareness, Mobile, Shopping
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