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At the last MacGroup meeting, someone asked me what I thought of Google Maps (which, if you haven’t heard, is now available for free for iOS). People are gushing over it, so I think people were surprised when I answered, “for me, it’s unusable.” Unusable? That’s pretty strong, right? But that’s my conclusion currently.

I downloaded it like the rest of the masses when it appeared in the iTunes store. I found the interface to be very confusing – it took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to get a route started, how to switch between routes, and how to get traffic turned on. And frankly, next time I use it it will probably take me a few minutes again. The few icons are too vague and/or too small for me to figure out.

But that’s not the biggest problem. I have a Bluetooth mic/speaker add-on in the car that I use for hands-free phone calls and Siri interaction. I also have a cable that plugs into the port on the bottom for power and to pass the audio into my car stereo. Every map application that I have uses the audio out the connector so I get it through my car speakers – they also dim the currently playing music while speaking to it’s easy to hear the directions. Well, every app but Google Maps.

Google Maps sends the audio to my tinny Bluetooth speaker. It’s fine for phone calls, but I don’t want my directions coming through there. But at least I didn’t have to worry about not hearing them over the music – Google Maps directed the music through the Bluetooth speaker as well!

So that’s why for me it’s not usable. I sent them feedback (which is done by shaking the phone – which is so intuitive I didn’t need to even tell you, you already knew that’s how you send feedback, right? Sheesh). Hopefully they will at least give you some sort of choice of audio out (although none of the others seem to need it, and phone calls do go to the Bluetooth speaker/mic when using any of the other programs).

Someone also said, “Apple must be pulling their hair out about all the good PR for Google Maps.” Maybe, but you know who is probably feeling even worse? Mapquest. Remember Mapquest? They’ve had an app for years, and it has voice directions, lots of points of interest, the data seems to be pretty reliable, and it can even access your contacts (which, amazingly, Google Maps can’t). Oddly, though, the contacts are in some sort of random order, but at least they’re there. Mapquest didn’t have a problem sending the audio, just like the other apps (Apple Maps, Navigon, TomTom) that I have. Oh, and Mapquest is FREE. Just like Google Maps. It doesn’t have Street view, but it has traffic and satellite view.

So why no love for Mapquest? Folks that I mention it to don’t even seem to know the app exists! The interface makes sense, and it has pretty much everything Google Maps does but Street View. I will say that Google Maps has nicer looking maps, but the Mapquest ones are very serviceable.

I’ll give Google Maps another try when they fix the audio issue (and maybe make the interface a little friendlier). But until then, I’ll stick with maps that work in my car.


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