Back in April Google updated its Apple Watch app for Google Maps, adding a number of enhanced features.
Traditionally, Google Maps on Apple Watch has been a companion app to its namesake on iOS. With this approach its main function was to provide the list of navigational instructions when using turn by turn guidance. Some might be glad to hear that with this update not much has changed. Others might have hoped for a lot more...
With this latest version there is a promise of more, allowing you to not only commence navigation on your watch, but also get travel time to saved locations without the need to request directions.
As with all Apple Watch apps installation is straight forward. If you have Google Maps on iOS you can install from the Watch app on your iPhone. You can also install from the App Store on your Apple Watch. To utilise all features, Google Maps on Apple Watch requires you to be signed into your Google Account on Google Maps on your iPhone. We didn't see this mentioned in the app description or docs but in our testing we couldn't get any favourite locations to appear on the Apple Watch without signing in.
Google Maps on Apple Watch presents two key features. Firstly it presents turn by turn instructions when in active navigation on your iPhone. This could be handy during a drive, allowing you to simply tilt your wrist to see the next move you're due to make. This could also benefit cyclists given Google Maps' comprehensive mapping of bike routes. With this, cyclings can get instructions without having to do a mid-ride dig through pockets or bags to find their iPhone.
The second key feature is displaying favourite locations with an associated travel time estimate. As mentioned, this feature requires you to be signed into a Google Account as we assume this account is accessed on your Apple Watch to retrieve these locations. Your favourite locations are simply two locations, home and work. The benefit here is that on tap (if you're in vicinity of your iPhone) you kick off turn by turn navigation. This is the only way to commence navigation from your Apple Watch (but does require your iPhone to be close by).
Users love their Apple Watch for the ability to customise its watch face with data from their favourite apps. Whether it be detailing your daily activity, weather information, heart rate or more, there's no doubting it's the feature that users most interact with. Apps use complications to display information on the watch face. For Google Maps sadly, the only options is a simple launcher that on tap opens up the app. There's no advanced feature to say display travel time to a location.
If you live in Google Maps, and have an Apple Watch then absolutely this app is for you. Given Apple Maps only supports cycling in a few select locations (although this is due to improve) then those that travel by bike will certainly appreciate rider friendly directions on their wrist.
Google has missed an opportunity here to bring a first class app on one of Apple's key platforms. We've identified a number of things that could be added that would make this app best of breed!
Google Maps on Apple Watch has left us wanting more which we hopefully see in releases to come. In its present form we see a small subset of users only finding value in the app, namely those not served well by Apple Maps (eg. cyclists or in countries where Apple Maps data isn't as strong as Google Maps).
In terms of a pure navigation app to provide turn by turn you simply cannot go past Apple Maps on Apple Watch. It's fully independent allowing you to search and start directions without picking your iPhone.
If you're looking to get more on your watch face, it'd be remiss of us to not mention ETA. With ETA you can have an advanced complication displaying travel time to any location. The added benefit is calendar integration. Once setup, travel time to meetings and appointment are automatically displayed. Check it out on the App Store.
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