Google has unveiled the first big update of its Google Maps for iPhone app, adding several new features to the stand-alone mapping app that Google introduced last December to work with Apple's latest iOS 6 mobile operating system.
"Today, we're releasing an update for Google Maps for iPhone with new search icons that make finding local places faster and easier, and with integration of your Google Contacts to make it simple to find your friends," Salahuddin Choudhary, product manager for Google Maps, wrote in a March 5 post on the Google Lat Long blog.
"For faster local search, you can tap one of the new icons for restaurants, coffee shops, bars and other types of places to quickly see nearby haunts," wrote Choudhary. "So if you're in a rush and need a quick coffee, just tap the search box, then the coffee cup icon, to see the cafes closest to you."
The new version is also being rolled out in English in seven new countries—Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—where users of the app will now be able to take advantage of its services in either kilometers or miles, depending on their preferences.
In addition, Google Maps for iPhone now integrates a user's Google Contact list, making it faster to find contacts during a search if their address has previously been entered into the contacts list, according to Choudhary. "Simply tap their name to see the address, which will be visible only to you, on the map," he wrote.
The updated version of the maps app for iPhone is now available for free download in Apple's App Store.
It was an interesting road for Google to bring the latest Google Maps app back to iOS in December 2012. The debut followed Apple's announcement in May 2012 that it would drop the native Google Maps app that had been part of iOS since the arrival of the first iPhones so that the company could introduce its own maps app.
The arrival of the Apple Maps app in iOS 6, however, was a disaster for the company last September when it was met with many complaints and criticisms from users who bashed its lack of accuracy and geographic details. The public relations problem was so bad at the time that Apple CEO Tim Cook even offered a public apology for the problems and vowed that they would eventually be resolved.
Google, of course, didn't sit on the sidelines during Apple's debacle. It rushed its own stand-alone Google Maps app for iOS into production, releasing it through the Apple Store last December. The app hit the 10 million download mark in the first 48 hours that it became available.
Some iOS 5 users never even upgraded to iOS 6 when it was released because they knew that they'd lose access to the native built-in Google Maps app that was missing until the release of the latest Google maps app.
The Google Maps app offers local search, voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, public transit information, Street View and live traffic information. The application also features a sign-in option that allows users to call up previous searches and directions made from the user's computer.
In February, Google launched an updated Google Maps software developer's kit (SDK) for its iOS maps app to give developers more tools for further refinements and features for introduction into the service. The latest SDK includes support for ground overlays, gesture control, geodesic polylines and the ability to allow users to view and interact with a Google map in an iOS app.