Google does an “Apple Maps” to its own Maps

Last night Google proved to me that you don’t have to be Apple to shoot yourself in the foot with a major Maps application release.

Naturally, online maps are a big feature on mobile devices, which is why it’s important to get them right.

Not too long ago Apple ended up with egg on their faces when they introduced their own Maps application to replace Google Maps. Google has just done the same. They rolled out a completely new Maps app starting from the middle of July and yesterday it landed on my Android phone. I was just preparing for a 280 km bicycle trip and had mapped out the route to follow, which I usually use Google Maps for. Imagine my surprise when I found that following an externally mapped route file was no longer supported on the latest Google Maps app: It doesn’t support the “My Maps” feature any more. With “My Maps” you can map a route using a number of third party products and highlight key locations, such as restaurants or shops on the map and assign a name to this. Google Maps then marks these points of interest with asterisks and highlights the route with a coloured line that you can follow easily. Simple but powerful. Well, that’s how it used to be before the “upgrade”.

This is what they say on their official blog:

Finally, My Maps functionality is not supported in this release but will return to future versions of the app.

Sounds to me like they were keen to release a new version of the product, even thought it wasn’t ready yet — just like Apple. Interestingly enough, the iOS version of Google Maps didn’t have the “My Maps” feature either. So what Google has done is to dumb down its flagship product to the level of the inferior version it ships on its competitor’s operating system!

Another annoying omission was the ability to display a scale bar (ruler) illustrating distances on the map, at whatever zoom level. This option has gone. It was quite useful to be able to estimate distances on the map. Without it, I simply don’t have a clue about distances unless I’m totally familiar with the area, in which case I presumably wouldn’t be using Google Maps in the first place.

My temporary fix was to uninstall Google Maps, reverting back to the factory installed version of Google Maps. This gets Google Maps working again, but it’s not sticky. After uninstalling it, the “upgrade” (i.e. downgrade) was back again the following day. Therefore it is important to disable automatic updates in the Google Play settings. Once you do that you will have to manually confirm all updates for apps other than Maps (and you need to avoid confirming Maps updates, which will still be offered).

Other problems that caused user complaints:

  • No more offline maps – the new version only supports map viewing with a mobile data or WiFi connection
  • Removal of +/- (zoom buttons) – zooming in and out now takes two fingers
  • Fewer and less relevant local search results
  • No more green/red/yellow lines along roads to indicate congestion levels
  • Removal of Google Latitude (which I never used)

UPDATE (2013-08-16): Version 7.1.0 appears to have brought back the scale bar. However, I won’t be installing it until My Maps also comes back.

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