Mapquest catches up on iPhone

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Though Apple famously claims otherwise, surfing "normal" websites on the iPhone can be troublesome – the small screen and lack of flash support (for now) make things hairy – but mapping sites seem to be the worst culprit. The clicking, dragging, and scrolling that are so easy on a traditional computer are next to impossible on a mobile device. Google Maps got around this by creating an application that ships on every iPhone. It's quick, slick, usable, and taps GPS to provide realtime location information. It doesn't matter if you don't know where you are – the phone does.

But other mapping services – from Yahoo and Mapquest, for example – didn't get that special treatment, leaving their fans little choice other than to switch to the included Google application. Now they have a choice.

IPhone users who point their browsers to Mapquest.com are now seamlessly directed to a special mobile site.  All of the features of the standard site are distilled into a format that's easily digestible on a small screen. Maps, directions, business search, even cheap gas prices – they're all here. The new site even makes use of iPhone's vaunted flick, pinch, tap interface.

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So, is, as Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg rapped, Google Maps still the best?

In a word, yes. Though Mapquest has its loyal fans – especially on traditional computers – it can't touch the Google Maps application's GPS-enabled location awareness. And the 'pinch and spread' zooming seems a bit more of a challenge for the Mapquest site, twice crashing the phone's web browser in my tests.

Still it's encouraging to see the site, which was the first to offer custom online mapping way back in 1996, continue to make improvements.

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