There’s no shortage of good mapping application and services… Bings Maps, Nokia Here, even Apple Maps are all decent enough. But there’s now only one great map service, and that’s Google Maps. With its most recent update, announced at Google I/O earlier this week, Google has taken its already robust map offering, and made it better by seamlessly integrating external elements and services like Street View, Google Earth, and Zagat info, along with its already indispensable and accurate directions.
It starts with the interface. Google Maps now opens full screen, with the large “Get Directions” search rail replaced by a simple search box. From here, users can generate directions, or find nearby landmarks and locations. A search for “sushi, Boston” brings up all the sushi restaurants on the map, and a click on any brings up a small info card with an address, contact info, hours, web address, menu link directions link, street view and user-uploaded pics, and review information (both from users and Zagat). Some popular locations even offer a peek inside. In short, it’s everything you need to make find a place to eat.
It’s all seamless. Click on Street View to swoop in for a street view image, user reviews brings up a new tab with the Google Plus page. Clicking on the map, anywhere on the map, brings up a card with the actual address and any relevant info. Thumbnails continuously pop up on the bottom of the page, offering Street View pics and addresses. All results are located right on the map.
Google Maps really shows its strength when switching to Google Earth View. Major urban areas are rendered in 3D, and users can tilt the map to two separate degrees and rotate 360 degrees for a “helicopter view.” As of right now, the buildings could use more detail, and resemble blobs more than actual structures, but again, it’s seamless and undeniably cool.
Zoom out in Google Earth to reveal the globe, with what Google claims is real-time cloud cover. You can even rotate to view the sun in the background, as well as star clusters.
How Do I Get There?
Directions have also been refined, and are displayed right one the map with smooth transitions between alternate routes and travel options (biking, walking, driving, public transport). At a glance, users can select the best, most scenic, or quickest route, all with a few clicks.
Google has taken the bits and pieces it’s gathered with its various services and acquisitions to make the most robust map offering available. Most of the utilitarian services aren’t new (Google has always provided great directions), but they’ve been smoothed over and integrated into a complete package.
TechnologyGuide previewed the Google Maps desktop version. It will be interesting to see how Google incorporates these features into mobile. Still, Apple has a long uphill climb with Apple Maps, and right now looks foolish for ditching Google Maps. Bing Maps and Nokia Here also need major work if they plan to compete.
The new Google Maps is currently in preview, and users can sign up here to check it out.