Google Maps is one product that many Indians, especially in metros, use on a daily basis. From home to office and back again, Google Maps has become a trusted source of navigation to avoid heavy traffic. In fact, Google Maps’ year-on-year growth in India stands at 100 per cent. According to numbers shared by Google, its Maps has seen its user base double in the past year alone.
“When we started, it was about getting the map of the world. Now, we are also thinking about the user on the map. We have evolved from Map of the world to mapping your world. We want to show real-time things that are relevant to you, the user,” said Dane Glasgow, VP Product Management, Google in an interaction with indianexpress.com.
Of course, a market like India poses unique challenges when it comes to real-time updates, especially around public transport. Connectivity still remains an issue for users, even though the data constriction has eased post the entry of Reliance Jio in the market. With telecom players providing more and more GB of data at lower costs, this can only mean good news for services like Google Maps, which do consume a lot more data.
“Public transport is a core component of how people get around,” says Dane and he says Google is doing a lot more on increasing coverage across cities. One of the plans is to get Mumbai’s local train routes, data, frequency of trains straight onto Google Maps to help users commute daily.
“So we have transit coverage in 16 markets. In India, we started by bringing the traditional Delhi metro maps into Google Maps. We’re also testing real-time bus data with Kolkata and are working with West Bengal Transport Corporation on this,” points out Google’s VP.
He also says one consistent complaints they hear from customers is that buses are never on time. In India, public bus schedules often don’t mean much in terms of accuracy. However, Google’s team is working across metros with public transport companies to make things better. It has started with Kolkata as the first pilot and has relied on putting GPS trackers on buses to collate real-time data so users can get an accurate picture.
Google says they already have feeds for schedule of buses in most major cities. But the team acknowledges that taking this to the next level will take require more work. The other thing Google wants to do specifically for India is show more coverage of local events like festival celebrations, a marathon or a march that might be taking place in a city.
“For us, another challenge is looking at how to reflect large events on Google Maps. One of the things, we hear from users in India about large events is not just about going to the event, but more about how to avoid some of the events,” points out Dane. Festival season can often turn into traffic hell across India’s metros and many users want to be left out of the impact. So Google Maps will show real-time data around many of these events.
For instance, if there is a festival procession in your regular route, you might soon see it reflect as it takes place, the streets through which it is going, etc. Google did this recently when the Satyarthi March took place across India, showcasing exact streets, routes where it took place.
The idea is to let people track some of the big events in real-time, helping both those who want to join and those who wish to avoid. Google says it will expand coverage for events, including things that are very local.
The other challenge for Google is in providing navigation in India like locals and that’s easier said than done. For instance, as Dane points out, Google Maps didn’t really support landmarks and there was no concept of naming intersections, which is fairly common in India.
“Originally, Maps was not designed to show names of intersections, but this is unique to India. We’ve also discovered in Delhi, metro pillars marks are used by people to identify their direction, location,” explained Dane. In parts of Delhi, the metro pillar has emerged as a landmark. and Google says it will start testing these soon as the next level of landmarks in the product.
“People have these numbers (metro pillar) on their business cards. These are just other class of landmarks that are becoming common, people are adding them to their address,” adds Google’s VP. Google says they want to “provide navigation guidance like a local” on Maps in India. Of course as a market, India poses many challenges and the company knows it will have to make more than just a few tweaks for the Indian user.