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Apple iOS 6 Maps roundup: Google Maps latest & Nokia Here hands-on

Despite a raft of righteous sounding promises issued in the wake of the Apple iOS 6 Maps debacle, iDevice users running the Cupertino-based firm's newest mobile OS are still stuck with a fairly useless cartography aid as they start to make for high streets and shopping centres around the country in search of festive gifts.

Fortunately, we have a double salvo of good navigational news this Wednesday, kicking off with the release of Nokia's new Here Maps app, currently available through the App Store. According to the Finnish company, Here Maps boasts a number of useful features, including live traffic updates, voice-guided walking directions, and detailed public transportation information. There's also a significant community element, aimed at allowing users to imbue the software with truly localised know-how.

"Here Maps helps you feel like a local anywhere you go. See where you are, search and discover nearby places, and get a feel for the place," Nokia said.

"Collect places to remember or for later discovery. Explore new destinations and know instantly how to get there on foot, by car or on public transport. Here Maps is based on the world-class Navteq mapping data used in in-car navigation systems in the world," it added.

Touted as one of the key features on the Finnish firm's new Lumia Windows Phone 8 handsets, Here Maps is a solid if slightly basic effort based on our quick play-around over lunchtime. General accuracy looks very good - the Financial Times compound across the road isn't mislabelled as a pub as with Apple Maps - though detail levels, especially when zoomed out, could be better.

Public transport markers are an obvious strong point, featuring not just underground and rail stations but bus stops as well. Unfortunately, point-of-interest denotations verge on non-existent - you'll get the renowned Tate Modern, but not the world-famous Borough Market - and certainly not any indication of where to grab a bite to eat in an unfamiliar area. That said, six bus stops is an obvious improvement on an errant cocktail bar, in our book at least (see top image).

Google now?

So what is the cartographically retentive handset owner to do? All in all, Nokia's Here Maps is a highly desirable if ultimately imperfect experience. It shouldn't be sniffed at under any circumstances, but its arrival is likely to be quickly overshadowed by the reappearance of an old friend - Google Maps. According to recent reports from the Wall Street Journal, the Internet search behemoth is currently trialling a test version of its Maps app with a view to an imminent release.

Owners of iOS 6 running devices will no doubt be enthused by such reports, with speculation hinting that the new software will be a mixture of improvements and compromises: turn-by-turn directions are expected to be introduced, but at the same time Google is widely reported to be amping up its in-app advertising in an effort to monetise its standard-bearing Maps app now that it is fully divorced from the Apple gravy train.

Google has so far declined to comment on the recent rumours but has reiterated its earlier commitment to distribute its Maps app across as many platforms as possible.

"Our goal is to make Google Maps available to everyone who wants to use it, regardless of device, browser, or operating system," the Mountain View-based search giant said.