Imagine my surprise when I woke up one morning on a fjord in Northern Norway. Given that I had gone to asleep in Guatemala, this came as a big surprise to me. Had I been drugged and kidnapped? No. I simply made the mistake of updating my iOS and having Google Maps replaced by Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s creation. Thankfully, within three months, in December of 2012, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) released a Google Maps version for the iPhone and I was immediately transported back home to Central America. Unfortunately, I received no frequent flyer miles for all that traveling.

Google Maps

Today saw the first significant update for Google Maps and it includes a number of new features in addition to just being leaps and bounds better than Apple Maps.

Among these changes is the integration of Google Contacts into the map application itself. This allows users to search for their contacts in the map application itself, whether or not the contacts are stored locally on the phone or not as long as they exist in the Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) cloud. Additionally, they have added another search option that allows users to browse around in order to find restaurants, gas stations, movie theaters, and coffee shops among other locations near you.

The spoken word directions that Android users had enjoyed well before they were available to iPhone users have also been improved.

Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have been added to the list of countries that one can download the app from and users are able to toggle Maps between miles and kilometers no matter where they are, something that was oddly not available on the first app that Google released for iOS 6.

There do remain a few things unavailable to iPhone users that Android users enjoys. Mapping layers, the offline mode that lets you save mapping tiles to your phone for use if you’re away from a data connection, indoor directions and biking directions are nowhere to be found.

Lastly, and unfortunately, there is still no version that has been optimized for the iPad. Until that day, users will still have no real need to windshield mount their iPad and use it as a functional GPS system.

All in all, today’s update improves a number of features, but still fails to deliver all the goods.