Problem Resolved: Google Maps for iPhone Is Here, Looks Good

Apple's iffy Maps app gets the competitor everyone's been hoping was on its way.

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It seem like iPhone users have been obsessing over the possible arrival of an iOS version of Google Maps for about a century now. Actually, it’s been less than three months. Before that, we had the iOS 5 version of Maps, an app –with Apple software and Google mapping data — which was highly satisfactory except for the lack of turn-by-turn spoken driving directions.

Then iOS 6 arrived, with an all-Apple version of Maps that was beautifully designed but, um, extremely spotty when it came to data. Tim Cook apologized and promised Apple would improve it, but the most obvious quick fix was for Google to release an all-Google mapping app for Apple devices.

And now it has. Google was indeed hard at work on Google Maps for the iPhone, which is now available on the App Store. (It took me a few tries before it downloaded — an awful lot of folks are presumably trying to snag it all at once as it rolls out around the world.) For now, it’s not available in a version optimized for the iPad.

At first blush, it looks very nice indeed. The interface is sleek and attractive, with vector-based maps which load quickly and scroll smoothly; it has full directions for drivers, pedestrians and public-transportation travelers; it includes traffic and Street View and can send you over to the Google Earth app for globe-spanning exploration.

Best of all, it has Google’s map data and address-searching technology — the same painstakingly-constructed stuff which makes Google Maps work so well on Android devices and in desktop browsers. Use it, and you can stop fretting about how long it’ll take Apple to clean up its Maps. (In my personal experience driving around the Bay Area, Apple Maps works well as long as it understands your address correctly — but it lags far behind Google Maps when it comes to knowing where businesses are located and interpreting addresses which are the least bit cryptic.)

During the period of Apple Maps anxiety, some observers fretted that Apple would refuse to allow Google Maps into the App Store. I didn’t: In recent times, there’s been plenty of evidence that Apple no longer declines to approve apps for competitive reasons.

And really, there was no reason for it to nix¬†Google Maps. By bringing the app to the iPhone, Google just gave Apple’s phone a boost in its never-ending battle against handsets based on Google’s own Android. It also largely eliminated a great big obvious reason for owners of previous iPhones to steer clear of the iPhone 5.

Why wouldn’t Apple want to approve a program which will help it sell iPhones — and buy it time as it fixes its own Maps app?

If you try out Google Maps for iPhone, let us know what you think.