Google Update Improves Maps; Will Apple Ever Catch Up?

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) announced some big improvements to the Google Maps app for Android and Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS on Tuesday, including integration with the popular ride app Uber. The latest set of updates includes new options that will improve the Google Maps experience for both drivers and users of public transportation.

The driving directions in Google Maps will now include lane guidance, with the app telling you which lane you should be in based on your route. This is a much-needed addition to the Maps experience, as it is often difficult to look ahead and see which lane you should be in while driving, especially on a complicated or traffic-filled route. There is also a new offline option that allows you to save maps for offline use under a specific name, so if you find yourself without phone service, you can still access a saved map.

If a Google Maps user also has the Uber app installed on his or her device, then Uber will pop up as a transportation option alongside walking and driving directions. Clicking on the Uber option will transfer users directly into the Uber app.

It was revealed that Google invested in the high-end taxi service last year, and since then, the app has grown from 35 to 70 cities and has unveiled cheaper options for those looking to travel frugally. Uber works by allowing users to request ride service from a location within a city that Uber serves and complete the transaction using credit card information stored in the app. Different cars can be chosen based on pricing. Uber has become a popular ride option, as it is simpler, frequently more reliable, and easier to find than traditional taxis.

Uber isn’t the only improvement to Google Maps for users of public transportation. The service has stepped up the amount of public transportation options it has access to and added the ability to search for the “last train home” while overall improving its transit accuracy.

Google is the undeniable king of the mobile mapping world, as Apple’s entrance into the field was marred by a faulty app that got users lost. In fact, Apple Maps was so bad that Apple CEO Tim Cook eventually took the unusual step of apologizing for the problematic app, and Senior Vice President of iOS Software Scott Forstall left the company in the aftermath.

The perception of Apple Maps might change with the upcoming iOS 8 update, which could bring with it a revamp of the mapping app. Apple has invested in a number of startups and done some hiring around mapping technology for both indoors and outdoors. Adding indoor directions for places like large shopping malls could be a key way for Apple to begin to compete with Google in mapping, as many iPhone users leave currently the native Maps app untouched and download Google’s offering instead.

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