Google Maps is getting a new icon, and a refreshed look as it turns 15 today. Announced in 2005, Google Maps has become one of the most used services from the company, one without which over a billion users cannot imagine their daily lives.
It has come a long way since 2005, says Jen Fitzpatrick, SVP Google Maps, who has been with the company for 20 years. She recounts how in 2005 one of the core features they worked on was adding a print button to Google Maps.
“I was working as part of Google’s user experience team at the time. I very much remember spending many hours trying to figure out where to put the print button on the Google Maps interface. Back in that time, the way we got directions was to look them up on our desktop or our laptop, and then print them out and take them with us as we went,” she said in a video call with select members of the media.
Thankfully, Google Maps users no longer need to print directions given there is real-time turn-by-turn navigation on our smartphones. On an average day, people worldwide drive over 1 billion kilometres using Google Maps, according to Fitzpatrick, which shows how popular the navigation feature has become.
Happy 15th Birthday @GoogleMaps! Reflecting today on some of the ways it’s been helpful to me, from getting around more easily to finding a good veggie burrito wherever I am:) Thanks to the support of our users, Maps keeps getting more helpful every day.https://t.co/Q4ky0pEpC3
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) February 6, 2020
But Google knows that Maps in 2020 will do a lot more than just help users get from point A to point B. In fact, Maps has now become a place for exploration and discovery, and will try to answer more in-depth queries from users, and the new design will focus on this.
New design, new icon
In the new design, which will come on both Android and iOS, Google is adding new tabs at the bottom of the app. Currently, Google Maps has the Explore Tab, the Commute Tab and For You. In the new design, there will be an Explore, Commute, Saved, Contribute and Updates tab.
The Explore Tab and Commute tab will remain as before, continuing to show what they always did. In case of Explore, it shows information for restaurants, businesses, live events around an area, while Commute typically shows the daily time it takes for a user to get to their workplace and back to home along with traffic updates, travel times.
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With the new Saved tab, Google will show all ‘Saved’ places in one spot along with any upcoming trips and plans which a user might have saved to their account. According to Google, users have saved more than 6.5 billion places on Google Maps.
The Contribute tab will be where Google Maps expects users to add information be in the form of photos or reviews to add to local knowledge about a particular area. Google also has a Local Guides programme for Maps, a dedicated community of 120 million people across the world who upload content, reviews, etc for the service. And clearly contributions from users are a huge part of Maps.
“Users every day contribute over 20 million updates and pieces of content to the map. A lot of those contributions come from our local guides community. This is our community of over 120 million people all around the world who have opted in to be contributors to maps and to really help be our eyes and ears in local communities to help make sure that their neighbourhood their town, their area of the globe is well represented on the map,” Fitzpatrick explained in the call.
Finally, the Updates tab will be a revamped version of the For You tab, which is a feed of trending places, must-see spots with recommendations from local experts. The format resembles the ‘Story’ like we have seen on other platforms, with content one can quickly breeze through.
One reason why Google is putting more focus on content and adding more information on Maps is also the kind of queries that users are posting. “People ask us detailed complex things like what’s the best pizza shop between here and my hotel, or what are the best things on the menu, or even things like is it going to be crowded right now if I go there. So we have been on this constant journey to understand more and more information about the world and answer those deeper and more complex questions that our users are bringing to us,” Fitzpatrick explained in the call.
The new design will also make it easier to access core account and privacy controls, including the new Incognito mode feature under the account settings, all in one place. Right now a user has to tap on their photo icon to see these settings.
New features for public transportation
In addition to these design changes, Google is adding more features which help users who rely on public transport for their daily travel. “Last year, we rolled out predicted crowdedness for transit, and what that did was really help users understand how likely a particular route was going to be crowded whether it was a bus or a train or subway. Users really liked it, and they wanted more. And so, we are adding additional transit attributes into the product,” Dane Glasgow, VP product at Google Maps said in the same call.
For one, the new transit feature will show additional information such as the temperature, which would highlight how hot or cold a particular route will be. It will also show accessibility options when using a public transport mode, whether it is easy to access, which would help those who need special access.
“We are also adding in features for whether there is a women’s car, and whether that is honored by the folks that are on that particular route. We’re also adding features around security and understanding whether there’s a particular guard or cameras on that particular route,” Glasgow added.
In India, the Delhi Metro has a coach reserved for women, and in Mumbai, the local trains have special coaches for women as well, so this could be additional information that Maps starts to show in the country soon. In Japan, there will be a special feature, which will let users understand how many different carriages and cars are present on a particular train. This could help them to know if they are likely to get a seat on a train or not.
The additional transit features will start to roll out in March. However, Glasgow said this will be a phased roll-out, and it won’t be available everywhere at once.
“Our goal is to bring it to everywhere where we have transit capabilities today, which definitely includes India. In fact, some of those features that I mentioned are specifically designed for markets like India, where those things exist,” he added.
Google is also adding a new feature to Live View. Currently, Live View is only available in countries where there is Street View, which does not include India. In Live View mode, Maps uses Augmented Reality (AR) to add navigation information on the camera as a user walks around an area.
Starting in March, Live View will provide better assistance, including letting a user know their surroundings and how far their destination is, without necessarily having to start a navigation session. Asked when Live View would come out of beta, Glasgow said they were still working on perfecting some features and adding new capabilities, such as improving performance during night time. While India users cannot use Live View, they can access it when travelling abroad in countries where the feature is available.
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