Google Spruces Up Maps Apps for iOS and Android

Better navigation, easier offline map access, new business filters and a tie-in with ride service Uber are included in the upgraded Google Maps apps.

Google Maps apps for Android and iOS are continuing to be tweaked and improved by Google, and the latest versions add new features such as better navigation and easier offline map access.

The new capabilities, which also include business filters so users can find just the right nearby business that can provide the products or services that they need, as well as integration with the Uber ride service, were announced by Jeffrey Hightower, the Google Maps software engineering manager, in a May 6 post on the Google Lat Long Blog.

"When your life is moving fast, you need tools to keep up with your pace," wrote Hightower. "Google Maps for mobile is the perfect travel companion for your daily commute, weekend errands, and (much-needed) vacations. Starting today, you now have even more ways to avoid life's everyday hiccups with Google Maps for Android and iPhone/iPad."

The improved navigation feature in Google Maps apps now shows users "which lane to stay in or move to" so they will find their destinations better, wrote Hightower. "You'll also have easy access to alternate routes while you're navigating, so you can choose the best drive for you."

The upgraded offline Maps capabilities mean that users will be able to find and save maps online before they leave on their trips, so they can use them when WiFi or cellular signal access is a problem, wrote Hightower. "Before setting off on your next vacation, hike or road trip, search for an area and tap on its place info sheet, then when available, you can select 'Save map to use offline,' and give your map a custom name, like 'Toronto Vacation,'" he wrote. "To find your offline maps, sign-in, tap the profile icon next to the search box in the top right corner, and scroll to see 'Toronto Vacation' and other saved maps."

The new business filters mean that users can now search through restaurants, bars and hotels by opening hours, rating, price and more so they can find the services and products they are seeking, he wrote. The filters and the information they produce is not available in all locations.

Uber users who already have the Uber app can now look at transit and walking directions right from Google Maps in some cities, and can instead choose to order an Uber ride with one click, under the new tie-in with the Google Maps apps.

Another new feature in the apps is improved information for using public transit in major cities, wrote Hightower. "With more than a million public transit stops on Google Maps, you'll get reliable information to help you get where you're going," he wrote. "Next time you're in Chicago, search for directions to Lincoln Park Zoo, tap the train icon, and select 'Depart at' to choose the time and day you want to leave—or even 'last train home' for those night owls—so you get the most accurate transit information for your needs."

Google's previous Maps apps for Android and iOS were unveiled in July 2013, when they received a host of updates, including optimization for iPad screens and enhanced navigation for users.

Both versions at that time also received the 5.0 star rating system that gave users Zagat's ratings on restaurants, bars, cafes and other destinations. Reviews from friends and acquaintances were also made available through the apps.