DEC. 2012 UPDATE: The standalone Google Maps app is now available for download at the App Store. It's free. Download at iTunes here.
When users upgraded their iOS devices to iOS 6, or when customers bought new devices like the iPhone 5 that had iOS 6 pre-installed, they were greeted by a major change: the old Maps app, which had been part of the iOS since the beginning, was gone. That Maps app was based on Google Maps. It had been replaced by a new Maps app created by Apple, using data from various, non-Google sources. The new Maps app in iOS 6 has received substantial criticism for being incomplete, incorrect, and buggy. That state of affairs has many people wondering: can they get the old Google Maps app back on their iPhone?
Why Google Maps Disappeared
The short answer to that question--whether users can have the Google-powered Maps app from iOS 5 back--is no. This is because once you've upgraded to iOS 6, which removes that version of the app, you can't return to earlier versions of the operating system (essentially; it's a little more complex, as we'll see later in this article).
Why Apple chose not to continue with the Google version of Maps isn't clear; neither company has made a public statement about what happened. There are two theories that explain the change. The first is the fact that the companies had a contract for inclusion of Google's services in Maps that expired and they choose not, or were unable, to renew it. The other holds that removing Google from the iPhone is part of Apple's ongoing fight with Google for smartphone dominance. Whichever is true, users who want Google's data in their Maps app are out of luck on iOS 6.
But does that mean iOS 6 users can't use Google Maps? Nope!
Using Google Maps on iOS 6
While an official Google Maps app for iOS isn't in the offing as of this writing, iOS users can still use Google Maps through another app: Safari. That's because Safari can load Google Maps and provide all of its features through the web browser, just like using the site on any other browser or device.
To do that, just point Safari to maps.google.com and you'll be able to find addresses and get directions to them just like you did before the upgrade to iOS 6 or your new device.
To make this process a little faster, you might want to create a WebClip for Google Maps. WebClips are shortcuts that live on your iOS device's home screen that, with one touch, open Safari and load the webpage you want. Learn how to make a WebClip here.
It's not quite as good as an app, but it's a solid backup plan. The one downside is that other apps that integrate with the Maps app have to use Apple's; you can't set them to load the Google Maps website.
Other Maps Apps
Apple's Maps and Google Maps aren't the only options for getting directions and location information on iOS. As with practically everything you need to do on the iOS, there's an app for that. Check out the About.com Guide to GPS's collection of great GPS apps for the iPhone for some suggestions.
Can You Upgrade Without Losing Google Maps?
Whether you're upgrading your existing device to iOS 6, or getting a new device that comes with iOS 6 on it, there's no way to keep Google Maps. Unfortunately, there's no option to choose some apps that are part of iOS 6, but not others. It's an all or nothing proposition, so if this is a major issue for you, you need to wait until Apple improves the new Maps app to upgrade your software or device.
Can You Downgrade from iOS 6 to Get Google Maps Back?
The official answer from Apple is no. The real answer, though, is that, if you are fairly tech-savvy and have taken some steps before upgrading, you can. This tip only applies to devices that ran iOS 5 and have been upgraded. Those that had iOS 6 pre-installed, like the iPhone 5, don't work this way.
It's technically possible to downgrade to earlier versions of the iOS--in this case, back to iOS 5.1.1--and get the old Maps app back. But it's not easy. Doing it requires having the .ipsw file (the full iOS backup) for the version of the iOS you want to downgrade to. That's not too hard to find.
The trickier part, though, is that you also need what's called the "SHSH blobs" for the previous version of the operating system you want to use. If you've jailbroken your iOS device, you may have these for the older version of the iOS you want. If you don't have them, though, you're out of luck.
Because this is so complex, I don't recommend that anyone other than the technically advanced, and those willing to risk damaging their devices, attempt this. If you still want to learn more about it, check out iJailbreak.
The Bottom Line
So where does that leave iOS 6 users frustrated with the new Apple Maps app? A little stuck, unfortunately. Apple will certainly improve its app, and will likely do it fast. Google may eventually release an official Google Maps app for iPhone. Until those things happen, though, your best bet is to use Google Maps on the web or try a third-party navigation app.