Homebrewer brings Google Maps back to webOS, makes it so much better than before
webOS launched with Google Maps integration, but after Palm was bought by Microsoft best-buddy HP, they switched over to Redmond's solution of Bing Maps. There are reasons to like Bing Maps - the "birds eye" view available to TouchPad users is especially nifty. But there are plenty of reasons to mourn the loss of Google Maps, including Google's superior mass transit directions and international coverage. That said, the webOS Google Maps app had fallen way behind, and by the time the switch was made to Bing, Google had plans to deprecate the Maps API used in webOS, so the app was bound to die eventually anyway. Rather than remake it with Google, HP did best bud Microsoft a favor and switched to Bing.
We didn't like it then, and we still don't like it today. In our not-so-humble opinion, Google Maps is the superior mapping solution, for everything from traffic to just finding things. Google Maps also includes incredibly handy features like Street View for seeing what it looks like at ground level or Terrain mapping.
webOS Nation Forum member and homebrew developer 72ka decided that he too was tired of Bing Maps, and as a European webOS user, he was even more frustrated by HP's switching. So he did what any enterprising developer would do and made his own Google Maps app that puts both the new Bing Maps and old Google Maps apps for webOS to shame. As in never show your face in public again because everbody avoids making eye contact with you because they see you as wholly inadequate and you know it even though you don't want to admit it shame.
Let's run down what the new homebrew Google Maps app brings to the table: View maps as standard streets, aerial photography, combined hybrid, or terrain; routing directions, including easily to or from search results; multi-touch, double-tap, and button-controlled zoom levels, a handy distance scale at the bottom, as-you-type search suggestions; Just Type integration; landscape support for all views; current traffic overlay; and Street View. Yes, Google Maps Street View. And it's even more awesome than you can get in the browser version of Google Maps - here you can zoom out to a super wide angle 180° view.
Also, unlike some of the other attempts at making a replacement mapping app, the homebrewed Google Maps is actually attractive. It looks like it belongs on the device. The app is also a Mojo app, so it works delightfully well on all webOS devices, without all of the jitters and lag we've come to associate with the Enyo-based Bing Maps app on webOS smartphones. It's relatively smooth on everything from the Pre to the TouchPad. Oddly, though it doesn't behave as well on the Pre3, despite being the most powerful of webOS smartphones. Perhaps having 2.5 times the pixels of any other webOS smartphone is more than webOS and the app can handle at this point. We're hopeful it'll get ironed out soon enough, as the developer notes this is still at an "early development state".
Really, there's only one place that we see the homebrew Google Maps falling short of the admittedly not-that-high mark set by the Bing Maps app: there's no bookmarking support for your favorite locations. It's not a huge deal, but it's nice to have. That said, developer 72ka has a favorite locations implementation in mind, and if all goes according to plan it'll even be tied into your Google account, so you'll be able to manage your favorites from any computer. We heart the cloud. Google Maps by 72ka is available now from the webOS Nation Homebrew Gallery and can be installed via WebOS Quick Install or Preware. There's more we migh want to say, but we just too darned excited to have the potential for a powerful, attractive, and intuitive Google Maps app back on our webOS devices.