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Thursday, December 13, 2012, 02:00 am PT (05:00 am ET)

New Google Maps for iOS brings vectors, transit and navigation features

Google's newly released standalone Google Maps app for iOS users brings new features and a familiar look along with new technology previously only available on the company's own Android platform, providing iOS users with a more credible alternative to Apple's own new iOS 6 Maps app than Google's existing web app.

Google vector maps for iOS



The new Google Maps uses vector imaging just like Apple's Maps, resulting in a similar information scaling that incrementally displays new data as you zoom in. Like Apple's Maps, Google now presents live 3D building models that appear only when you zoom into the block level.

Previously, Google Maps on iOS 5 and earlier (or via the company's very limited web app) loaded bit mapped tiles incorporating a static view of building outlines. The older maps also could not be freely rotated, and text labels were fixed at specific zoom levels.


Google Maps iOS


Source: Google via iTunes


While Google had earlier incorporated a vector-based maps presentation in its Android app, it could not force Apple to use this data in the Maps client bundled with iOS. This allowed Apple to launch its own Maps app this summer with the first vector based maps seen on the platform.

Vector-based maps can be highly efficient, allowing users to freely roam offline much further than the bit mapped tiles Google serves over the web (and in previous incarnations of Google Maps on iOS).

Apple's own version of Maps seems to present and cache more mapping detail for automatic offline use, and currently appears to load new data in the background faster over a slow connection. However, the new Google Maps is a marked improvement over Google's earlier bitmapped editions (and in particular, over the company's web app).

After zooming into San Francisco and then Berlin, Germany, and then taking the app offline, Google Maps was still able to navigate some street level maps in both cities without a data connection. However, maps of the surrounding area (and at other zoom levels) were not as clear or complete as Apple's Maps.

The features of Google Maps for iOS are now closer inline with the company's Android app, although both versions still include the same place name errors, with many businesses located in the middle of the street or identifying the wrong location (as will be detailed in our upcoming segment on local data and points of interest).