December 13, 2012, 4:28 PM — Our long, mostly middle-and-upper-class iPhone-owning directional nightmare is over. Apple has approved, and Google has released, an official Google Maps app for iPhones. It’s a good app, it’s free, it has turn-by-turn spoken directions, and it has all the things people missed in Apple’s Maps app—like knowledge of actual places, and directions that usually make sense.
If you have an iPhone, you need to download Google Maps, if only as a backup for when Apple Maps gets things wrong. If you have an iPad, Maps looks stretched and wonky, but it works. Maps is fairly intuitive to use: search for something you want to see, or tap the direction arrow to get directions. Simple.
But there are a few hidden things in the app itself, and some weird things you might not have thought about. Below are five of them.
That tiny tab in the lower-right corner
It is very, very tiny, this tab. You might not notice it at all, in fact, until you accidentally open up the area to the right with your fingers (more on that in a bit). Grab that tiny, tiny tab with a finger in the lower-right corner, drag it to the left, and you’ll find some occasionally handy tools: a toggle for satellite or maps view, buttons to overlay traffic or public transit options on the map, and a link to open the Google Earth app in the same location you’re looking at (providing you have it installed).
The somewhat hidden gesture controls
Tap the “person” icon to the right of the search bar. If you’re logged in, you’ll find options to set your Home and Work locations, so you can get directions by simply typing in the first few letters of Home or Work. But tap that gear in the upper-right, and then check the “Tutorials & Help” option toward the bottom. There’s an option for “Gestures.” Tap that, too.
The first thing you see is that you don’t even need that tiny, tiny tab every time—you can use a two-finger “pull” gesture to access those occasional toggle buttons. And, look at that: when you have directions pulled up, you can swipe left or right to check out alternate routes. Same thing with search results: you see the first and best result at the bottom, and you can “pull up” to see more, but you can also swipe left and right to see alternate results.
Google’s getting pretty good at hiding away the complexity of some of their data-rich apps in iOS apps, as evidenced by the Gmail refresh earlier this month. Keep it coming.