It’s hard to believe it, but Google Maps has now turned 15 years old. The service was launched all the way back in February 2005, at a time when Android was not owned by Google, at a time when the touchscreen smartphone era hadn’t arrived. In the years since, Google has upgraded its capabilities to such an extent that it is generally held to be the best free mapping service. Competitors such as HERE Maps, Apple Maps, TomTom, OpenStreetMap, and others come close in certain aspects, but Maps is the most well-rounded package. It comes with turn-by-turn navigation, Street View, places, and much more. Being a pre-loaded app on all Android smartphones means that Maps has become ubiquitous in the lives of consumers as more than one billion people use it, according to Google. To celebrate its 15th birthday, the company is updating Maps with a new look and multiple new features.
Starting today, the updated Google Maps app for Android and iOS will have five tabs on the app’s home screen: Explore, Commute, Saved, Contribute, and Updates. The Explore tab will let users find information, ratings, reviews, and more for about 200 million places around the world, including local restaurants, nearby attractions, and city landmarks. The Commute tab will handle travelling in the form of route guidance and navigation, with real-time traffic updates, travel times and suggestions for alternative routes. The Saved tab will handle the more than 6.5 billion places that people have saved on Maps, which can now be viewed in one place. Users can also find and organize plans for an upcoming trip and share recommendations based on places they have been to. The Contribute tab lets hundreds of millions of users share local knowledge such as details about roads and addresses, missing places, business reviews and photos. Finally, the new Updates tab will provide users will a feed of “trending, must-see spots” from local experts and publishers. Users will also be able to directly chat with businesses here, in addition to discovering, saving, and sharing recommendations with their network.
The new Google Maps icon is based on the pin, which has been a key part of it since the beginning. Google says that the new icon “reflects the icon [it has] made in mapping the world”, and it “represents the shift [the company has] made from getting [users] to [their] destination to also helping [them] discover new places and experiences”. A party-themed car icon will also be available for a limited time in navigation.
New transit features
Google’s new transit features for Maps were also detailed. The company notes that it introduced crowdedness predictions to help users see how crowded their bus, train or subway was likely to be based on past rides. Now, to help planning, it is adding new insights about the user’s route from past riders. Users will be able to check if the temperature is considered by past riders to be on the colder or warmer side. If they have special needs or require additional support, they can identify public transit lines with staffed assistance, accessible entrance and seating, accessible stop-button or hi-visible LED for accessibility. For regions where transit systems have specifically designated women’s sections or carriages, the company will help surface this information, along with whether other passengers abide by it. In terms of security, users will be able to know if security monitoring is on board, whether it’s with a security guard, installed security cameras, or an available helpline. A Japan-only feature will let users pick a route based on the number of carriages so that it increases their chances of getting a seat.
Google states this information comes from past riders who have shared their experiences. It will appear alongside public transit routes when available. Users will be asked a short survey within Maps about their experience on recent trips to help future riders. These features will be rolled out globally in March, with the condition of availability varying by region and municipal transportation agency.
Finally, Google also wrote a bit about Live View. This feature was introduced in 2019 to help walking users decide which way to when they start a walking route with Maps. It combined Street View’s real-world imagery, machine learning, and smartphone sensors to show users’ surroundings with directions overload in AR. The company will be expanding Live View in the coming months and testing new capabilities, starting with better assistance for users when they are searching for a place. They will be able to see how far away and in which direction a place is.
This certainly appears to be a feature-rich update for Google Maps, fitting well with its 15th year. Users can download the newest version of Maps on the Play Store below.
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