Now that both mapping apps are available for the iPhone, we can compare them head-to-head.
FORTUNE — Use an iPhone with iOS6? Then earlier this week may have been serious cause for celebration. That’s when Google GOOG released Google Maps for those devices. The app arrived nearly three months after Apple APPL officially launched a version of Maps for the iPhone that swapped out Google’s mapping data for the company’s own efforts. Sure, it may have had bells and whistles like a new 3-D Flyover feature, but as I discovered during my iPhone 5 review, the thing that really mattered — namely, directions — proved downright problematic. Users reported issues like missing streets or mislabeled buildings, and in my own case, I was steered the wrong way twice.
So it’s no surprise that in less than 24 hours, Google Maps became the number one free app in Apple’s App Store. Of the 16,000-plus users who rated it, over 13,000 awarded the app five stars. One user review summed it up simply: “Now my iPhone can be useful for basic things… like directions.” Is it perfect? Well, no. Because Google Maps isn’t the default mapping application on the iPhone anymore, users can’t ask Siri to help lead the way or easily import the addresses of their phone contacts. But Google Maps has many other things going for it. Let us count the ways:
Cleaner design. For a company that adheres to a strict philosophy of clean and simple design, Apple Maps can actually appear somewhat cluttered next to Google’s effort. While it may be helpful sometimes to know if there’s a nearby Pottery Barn, in some cases all those restaurant and shop icons showing up in Apple Maps gets in the way of quickly reading street names.
Public transit directions. Google Maps includes public transit directions; Apple Maps doesn’t. (Enough said.)
Street View. Perhaps less useful for some, Street View nonetheless remains a cool perk for those moments when say, I want to know what a store front, restaurant, or office building looks like before I actually get there. For Google, it’s the result of more than five years worth of work: of cars — and sometimes, even tricycles and snowmobiles — capturing images and stitching them together. And unless Apple assembles a similar herculean effort on this front, Street View will likely stay a Google Maps-only feature.
More efficient search. At times, looking up places proved much quicker on Google Maps. When trying to suss out the address for Mission Chinese Food, a very popular San Francisco restaurant, Google Maps figured out what I was looking for within in two clicks when I simply typed “mission chinese.” Searching for the same place via Apple Maps in the same way was downright confusing. The app offered up no less than 10 different places, highlighting a different nearby restaurant instead.
Better directions. Period. Let’s face it: thanks to a multi-year head start, Google Maps is simply more thorough and more accurate than Apple Maps, something which has been proven time and time and time again. For its part, Apple recognizes it has some serious work to do: CEO Tim Cook apologized to customers via letter last September for the “frustration” experienced, and Senior Vice President Scott Forstall, the exec directly responsible for Maps, was reportedly asked to resign. So until Apple catches up, Google Maps will be the go-to navigation app for many users — myself included.