Google Pushes Back at Apple, Adds Features to Mobile Maps

Google Inc. is upgrading mapping services to woo users and swipe back at Apple Inc., which is nudging aside the location tools on its own mobile devices.

Apple plans to unveil a mapping application next week that will come pre-installed on its iPhones and iPad tablets, replacing Google Maps, said a person with knowledge of the matter who isn’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

Google, whose mapping app has been on the iPhone since its unveiling in 2007, today announced a feature that gives users access to maps even when they’re offline. The feature initially is only available on devices using Google’s Android software.

“I’m very proud of Google Maps services and they’re available basically on all devices today,” Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Maps, said at an event today in San Francisco. “We’ll continue to make Google Maps services as widely available as possible.”

Google and Apple have increasingly clashed as the two companies compete for users of mobile devices and related services, such as music and movies. Google’s Android operating system has emerged as the most widely used smartphone software, and will command 61 percent of the market this year, while Apple’s iOS will rank second, with 20.5 percent this year, according to IDC.

With the new mapping option, users can select a portion of a map when the device is online that can later be used when the device is no longer connected to the Web, Rita Chen, product manager for Google Maps for Mobile, said today at the event.

Street View Upgrades

The company offered the service as an experimental feature for Android last year.

“This has been one of the most requested features, and is coming soon,” Chen said.

McClendon said an Apple version of the service could be added in the future.

Google also announced improvements for Street View, which features photos of roads and byways around the world.

The company, which has mainly relied on people in autos to capture the images, said today that it will incorporate images taken with other devices. Google photographers will begin using backpack-like machines to take pictures of more obscure places - - say, castles or ancient ruins.

In another upgrade, Google said it added more detail to the satellite images that are part of its Earth for Mobile tools. The service will give more nuanced and accurate images for places as varied as highways and baseball parks.

Map services are part of Google’s effort to widen its lead as the largest U.S. provider of online mapping. Google had 75.1 million map users in April, up 29 percent from a year earlier. That put it ahead of MapQuest, which had a 7 percent decline, and Microsoft Corp.’s Bing, which had 8.59 million, a 10 percent gain, according to ComScore Inc. Google generates sales of advertisements that appear on map-search results.

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