Android’s Market has a ton of apps, and while there are plenty of high-quality, professional, and good-looking examples (yesterday also marked the release of the New York Times‘s excellent official Android app), as a rule, Android apps are often less impressive than competing iPhone apps. But Google‘s own apps are amazing almost without exception. Gmail, Sky Maps, Goggles, Voice, and Listen are just about the best of their type around, regardless of OS, and Maps for Android beats every other version of Maps, hands down.
So every update to Google Maps for Android is a big deal–the features may eventually trickle down to other platforms like the iPhone and WebOS, but for the moment, features like Maps Navigation are still Android-only. The newest update, 4.2, includes three major new options (really, two major and one minor–I don’t think Navigation getting a separate launcher is that big a deal).
First, biking directions:
Just in time for National Bike Month, select the bike icon when getting directions to get an optimal bicycling route in the U.S. If you’re in the mood for a more scenic ride, you’ll also see the Bicycling layer on the map which shows dedicated bike-only trails (dark green), roads with bike lanes (light green), or roads that are good for biking but lack a dedicated lane (dashed green). You can always turn on this layer from the Layers menu to pick your own route. Add in the Labs’ Terrain layer, and you can decide to either climb or avoid that big hill on the way home!
Hopefully the terrain layer does a good job–I’ve been led up unclimbable hills here in San Francisco by bike planner utilities in the past, and it’s always an infuriating and sometimes humiliating experience. I’ve actually had to dismount and hike up a hill so steep the city had to carve stairs into the sidewalk due to one of those bike planners, leading to my taking the bus for a solid month afterwards out of anger and sore calves.
Second, sharing. This is a really useful little addition. From the search results, you can hit “share this place” to share any place via email, text message, Twitter, Facebook, or Buzz. Instead of texting an address or an intersection, you can just share a direct link–great for communicating between two people with smartphones. I really like this feature; almost all of my text messages are some variation on “where do I meet you” or “meet me here,” and usually go for a few more attempts before I find whoever I’m looking for. This is a nice easy way to get that information across quickly.