With Google Maps returning to iOS yesterday, its disappearance from the iPhone and iPad lasted only a few months. The first release of Google Maps is designed for the iPhone, though iPad users can still download and run the app in iPhone compatibility mode. (Hint: selected "iphone apps" at the top of the screen when searching for Google Maps in the new App Store.) Google used the same strategy with the new YouTube app, which released for the iPhone in September and got a universal update for the iPad earlier this month.
The new app contains many of the standard Google Maps features, such as turn-by-turn directions, transit directions, traffic view and Street View. It even has a preview of the directions that is similar to the hands-free voice instructions we get from the Apple Maps app and GPS devices, though without the actual voice. Unfortunately, Google Maps Navigation isn't included, though we can hold out hope for this to be added in the future.
The interface is similar to the old app, but not the same. And in some areas, it's worse. For example, getting turn-by-turn directions will present you with a list rather than a map-view of the directions with the option to drag it to an alternative route. This list is ordered based on Google's estimated time of arrival, which uses both distance and traffic. And while this may sound like a good idea, Google Maps listed a route first that was significantly longer than the shortest route because of perceived traffic issues. In some cases, Google Maps may be correct in its estimation, but this makes it easy to go way out of the way when you are assuming the directions will give you the most direct route. Hopefully, they'll move this to a visual representation of the alternative routes in the future.
For iPad users, the maps app is still quite functional in the 2X blown-up iPhone compatibility mode, but the text on the map is a little blurry. Still, for those wanting to get away from Apple Maps, it's the best alternative. A universal version of the app should arrive in early 2013.