Google Maps for Mobile Browsers: Now Better Than a Native App

Google Maps for mobile browsers on iOs and Android now features almost all the features of the desktop version.

When you compare the features of the Google Maps-based mapping app on the iPhone with the Google Maps desktop experience, it quickly becomes obvious how many feature are missing from the native app. There are no layers, no biking directions, no photos and no integration with Google Places, for example.  Google constantly adds new features to Maps, but the native app on the iPhone hasn’t seen any major update for ages. Indeed, there are some rumors that Apple is developing its own maps and mapping apps and could soon drop Google as its main mapping provider.

Now, however, the mobile version of Google Maps that runs in the browser is getting virtually all of the features the desktop version currently offers. There are clickable icons for businesses and transit stations, biking directions and layers, integration with places most of the other features you’ve gotten accustomed to on the desktop. Overall, the web-based version of Google Maps – especially on iOS – is now better than the native app. On the one hand, that showcases the power of web apps, but it also highlights how out of date the native Apple ‘Maps’ app has become.


Here is a list of all the new features:[list]

  • See your current location
  • Search for what’s nearby with suggest and auto complete
  • Have clickable icons of popular businesses and transit stations
  • Get driving, transit, biking, and walking directions
  • Turn on satellite, transit, traffic, biking, and other layers
  • View Place pages with photos, ratings, hours, and more
  • When signed into your Google account, access your starred locations and My Maps[/list]

Thanks to the wonder of modern web technologies like HTML5, using the web-based version of Google Maps doesn’t feel very different from using the native apps. The new features actually make it more useful than the native app. You can now, for example, tap on a business’ name on the map and immediately see reviews, call the business, get directions or see more details on the respective place page. The only feature I’ve always missed in the web-based version has been the ability to double-tap on a map to zoom in. That’s still not an option today.