Thursday, July 11, 2013

Google Maps for Mobile receives its expected revamp; new navigation and discovery features included

In May, at Google I/O, Google announced a major revamping of Google Maps, and on Wednesday, the company announced that the new app was here, at least for Android. An iOS version, the company said, would be coming soon.

The new Google Maps app leverages the design that Google released for the iPhone last December. In addition, the version will include Google's first dedicated app for Android tablets and iPads.

To be clear, Google will roll the new version out gradually, with only devices sporting Android 4.0.3 and later receiving the updated version.

Among the changes are:

Explore, which Google bills as a "fast and easy way to visually browse and discover new places without even typing. " Users can tap the search entry box to see cards showing great places to eat, drink, sleep and shop.

Google has added two new features to help users navigate through the morass that is rush hour traffic. In addition current traffic conditions, users can now see reports of road problems; users tap to see the details of the incident. During a trip, Google Maps will also alert users if a better / faster route becomes available. Note that this feature is currently available only on Android, but is coming soon to iOS.

The above functionality sounds a lot like features available on Waze, which Google recently acquired, but obviously doesn't leverage Waze's technology, which is crowd-sourced.

A new 5.0 star rating system that gives users a quick way to see how their friends and others rate restaurants, bars, cafes, and the like (yes, Google is again treading on Yelp territory). The Zagat badge of excellence (Google acquired Zagat in September of 2011) and curated lists are integrated into search results, as well.

Labeled right on the map, the new Google Maps for Mobile also adds valuable Offers from national brands such Toys "R" Us, Macy's, Michael's and more.

Search results are now featured at the bottom of the screen in a manner similar to Google Now cards. Swiping through the cards will show an end user other results.

Sending feedback comments for Maps errors has been made easier. Shaking the device will open the feedback screen.

All these added features are balanced by subtracted ones. Latitude and check-ins are no longer part of the new Google Maps app. Don't think you can keep them by holding on to an older version; the feature will be retired on August 9.

Google is doing this to push more uses to adopt Google+. Location sharing and check-ins have been added Google+ for Android and are coming soon for iOS.

The offline maps feature for Android has been augmented and replaced. When a user finds a map they want to save, they simply speak or enter "OK Maps" into the search box while viewing it, and the Maps app will automatically save that map and the surrounding area. "The surrounding area" sounds vague, but Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps, said that if a user is viewing a map of the Mission District in San Francisco, the app will cache a map large enough to cover most of the San Francisco Bay Area.

A demo video of the new Maps app is available below.

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