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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21 Comments

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Overall i really like the new maps but there's a few odds and sods that keep me popping open incognito mode and using the old maps. Being unable to zoom in as far as we used to be able to on satellite mode, no terrain mode, no short link having to zoom right in to see what roads have street view rather than have them highlighted in blue, having to scroll through the pictures at the bottom rather than have them appear on the map when you drag and hold the now non existent street view icon and the lag when trying to navigate via street view.

As a user for about a week It's useable but far too slow compared to the old version of google maps when running on a mid range desktop PC. God help those with budget mobile specs.

tuckeratlarge said,
The one thing that's putting me off the new maps, and going back to the old, it doesn't zoom in far enough in satellite view.

I have this problem as well, also the birds-eye view(when you zoom in fully in satelite view in the old ui) gone. But if you in lite mode, then you can zoom in more.

tuckeratlarge said,
The one thing that's putting me off the new maps, and going back to the old, it doesn't zoom in far enough in satellite view.

Agreed. It's a pain in the arse when you want to pick out a specific detail.

benbuffone said,
It zooms in to 20 in most places, and 23 in some places. What's the point of it being able to zoom into an increasingly blurred image?

Yes the image quality degrades but you can still see far more detail with the zoom boost on the old maps than you can on the new maps.

I like it but I've found a couple of things. It's not always obvious how to make the "street view" icon appear (like it appears on the lower right corner of the search bar sometimes).

Also, it's like the ultimate heavyweight web app. It doesn't exactly fly on CPUs that ultraportables use.

I can't seem to figure out how to set Melbourne as my default area to show when I go to maps.google.com? Other than that it's great and very fast and smooth.

The new maps is nice, but I had a couple of problems.

I couldn't seem to add multiple destinations in directions. Only A to B. On the old one you could add C, D, E, F, etc

Also, I couldn't find a way to send a link to someone, let alone a short URL