Even though Google Maps often seems like the more popular choice, there are a lot of good reasons to use Apple Maps. It’s gotten considerably better over the years at providing accurate navigation, and Apple is adding some pretty significant new features each year, such as Look Around, which debuted in iOS 13 last year, and now cycling directions and EV routing with iOS 14.
However, Google may be closing the gap in terms of some of the most compelling reasons to use Apple Maps, at least for fans of the Apple Watch and CarPlay.
While Google Maps introduced support for the original “Series 0” Apple Watch only a few months after it was released, the company mysteriously pulled the watchOS companion app less than two years later, joining others such as Amazon, eBay, and Instagram.
While in some cases these watchOS apps weren’t missed — many apps weren’t really all at that good on the wrist-worn device in the first place — Google Maps was not only one that seemed to be a great fit in providing the ability for users to get directions simply by glancing at their wrist, but in doing so Google also ceded this territory to Apple, whose own Maps app of course continued to work on the Apple Watch, and in fact had already offered features that Google’s didn’t, such as haptic notifications of upcoming turns.
Google never offered an official comment on why its Google Maps Apple Watch app had disappeared, and while many hoped that it would only be a temporary absence, after more than two years went by without seeing its return, most Google Maps users simply assumed the search giant had given up on it.
All This and CarPlay Too
Today, however, Google announced that it’s not only bringing back the Apple Watch app in the next few weeks, but it will also finally integrate properly with the CarPlay Dashboard feature that Apple introduced last year in iOS 13, making it an even more viable alternative to Apple Maps for those who want a more integrated iOS experience.
Although Google Maps came to CarPlay shortly after Apple added support for third-party navigation apps with iOS 12 back in 2018, it remained something of a second-class citizen both in terms of CarPlay and even in terms of the Google app experience itself.
The functionality that Google exposed through CarPlay was considerably more limited than that available when using the app directly, and users who wanted to take advantage of the new split-screen CarPlay Dashboard, allowing navigation directions to appear alongside controls for music, calendar appointments, and HomeKit buttons were forced to use Apple Maps. Google Maps remained a full-screen affair.
However, Google Maps has begun improving its CarPlay app more recently in general, however, introducing support for features like interim stops along a route — something that’s long been available in Google Maps, but wasn’t exposed through the CarPlay UI, and now starting today users should be able to access Google Maps right in the CarPlay Dashboard interface.
On the Apple Watch side, Google Maps will offer turn-by-turn navigation directions for driving, cycling, walking, and even public transit, including estimated arrival times and step-by-step directions to destinations that are saved in the app.
If you’re trying to find your way to a destination that you haven’t already saved, however, you’ll need to start the trip from Google Maps on your iPhone and then pick it up on your watch, which may limit the usefulness of the app for those who prefer to go out with their cellular Apple Watch only.
In fact, Google hasn’t stated whether Google Maps will even work on the Apple Watch without a paired iPhone nearby in the first place, so there are still areas in which Apple Maps is going to have an advantage for those who rely more heavily on navigating from their wearables.
According to Google, the current Google Maps app is already now compatible with CarPlay Dashboard on all CarPlay supported vehicles, while the Google Maps app for the Apple Watch will be rolling out in the coming weeks.