Hands on with the new Google Maps

In 2005, Google officially announced its mapping service. While there were some less-featured aerial mapping services beforehand, Google implemented an easy-to-use service that could be used by everybody with a web browser. Just a few months later, Google released the Maps API, which now accounts for 15 percent usage of all Google APIs available. Maps really is...everywhere. (See what we did there?)

Having previously leaked ahead of Google's I/O conference, before Google opened it up to registration, we're now taking a look at the pre-release version of the next major update to Google Maps.

Interface

On first glance, it's easy to notice the new interface of Google Maps is much cleaner, with Gmail-esque information boxes and scrolling photo galleries adorning the edges of the image. The map view itself takes a much higher precedence in the redesign, occupying nearly the entire browser window.

Clicking through on a specific map item drops a pin down and prompts further information to be displayed. The information boxes themselves link to Google's huge database of business listings as well as Google+ profiles of locations. An option to access Street View is also available, along with associated images relating to locations.

As in the background of the screen capture above, Google's vector-based map layer has been heavily reworked with cleaner graphics and larger fonts. The style is similar to that seen on the service's iOS app, which was released to quick consumer acclaim.

Google showed off this version of maps at its I/O conference, where "immersive imagery" in the form of Google Earth integration, improved search tools and Street View updates were shown off.

When getting map directions, the route itself is naturally the focal point of the image. In the redesign of Maps, Google was keen to bring the most important elements of the map to the foreground and to place less precedence on those that are, for the most part, less important. In order to achieve this, the company took an entirely different approach to data analytics. 

For a specific location, the newly integrated Maps algorithm will analyse an area and the top navigation queries of users searching in that area. As such, future results will deliver the most popular points of interest around your selected route, while downplaying those that are less popular. This method of aggregating crowdsourced data is similar to the introduction of the Maps Editor some weeks ago. Full details of the new technology can be found over on TechCrunch.

Directions and Traffic

With the ability to view live traffic along a route and live editing of directions, navigating around the Earth in the new Maps is a breeze. The information box gives users full details of routes with step-by-step directions and estimated travel times.

Engaging the Live traffic layer gives you a good idea of what areas to avoid along your route. Tapping into your respective country's traffic monitoring (in this case, in the UK, Google uses traffic provider TomTom), data is both up-to-date and relevant.

Earth View

The new Google Maps also heavily integrates Google Earth, allowing for 3D imagery and night view. 3D buildings pop up only in the most populated areas at present, but all parts of the Earth can be viewed in 'night view', presenting an image you might imagine from a spacecraft at night.

If you don't meet the reasonably stringent system requirements, however, Maps appears in "Lite" mode with no 3D capabilities, prompting this message:

Google Maps is available now via an invite request, however initially the availability is very limited.

Source: Google Maps

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