Google Maps has always made more sense on mobile devices than on desktops, but until a few years ago, mobile devices couldn't handle the full Maps experience. With the advent of powerful smartphones, this was no longer a problem, but it still meant having to install a native app to get the most of it.
Not anymore though, Google has always preferred building web apps instead of native ones, whenever possible, and the new Maps website for smartphones proves it.
It requires a modern device, aka anything with either iOS, iPhone or iPad, or Android, but it provides an experience very close to that of the native apps, with none of the hassles.
You can share your location from the browser and get much of the features from the desktop version. The site is also optimized for touch devices, in fact, you'll notice few differences between the native apps and the web version.
The mobile site also incorporates Place pages, formatted for the small screen devices, so you can check out places nearby.
Finally, places search works very much like you'd expect on the desktop.
Performance wise, the site feels snappy, at least over a WiFi connection, scrolling around is pretty smooth and the map data is updated fairly fast. You get to double tap to zoom, but other gestures from the native apps are not supported.
The web app is rather solid, but Android users will be puzzled as to why Google would go to the trouble of building a website when the Google Maps app is so good. The site comes close to it, but it's still lacking in several areas, mostly due to the technical limitations of building on the web.
iPhone users won't be so surprised though, the iOS Google Maps app is lacking and the website comes with several big features still missing from the native app.
"Google Maps for mobile browsers is platform independent - you will always get a consistent experience and the latest features without needing to install any updates, no matter what phone you use," Google explained.
This seems like the way forward for Google, the company has always preferred building on the web and with mobile browsers and web technologies becoming increasingly powerful, the time when websites can replicate or even best native apps are not too far ahead.
New Google Maps Mobile Website Challenges the Native Apps