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May 22, 2018

Augmented reality’s latest trick? Simplifying directions on Google Maps

by John_A

Google Maps keeps growing up. Already one of the most popular tools on anyone’s smartphone, the navigation app has successfully mapped 220 countries, and helped 1 billion users find their way around. Recently, Google has begun automatically adding new businesses, addresses, and places of interest, and is now giving users information about whether or not their favorite local haunts are open, and how long the wait time might be. But at Google I/O, the company gave us a sneak peek at what is to come from Google Maps, and no matter how nonexistent your sense of direction might be, Google can help.

Perhaps the most useful new feature Google announced at its conference is something the company is calling VPS, or visual positioning system. Rather than asking users to rely on that little blue dot on their screen to help orient themselves, Google is instead leveraging your smartphone camera to help you determine exactly where you are. In the not-so-distant future, once you’re in Google Maps, you should be able to point your camera at a street or at a building, and not only be told exactly what you’re looking at, but which way to turn in order to reach your final destination. That means your days of walking half a block in one direction before turning around and walking the other way could soon be behind you.

This new feature combines computer vision with street view, and may also incorporate some fun augmented reality — for example, Google is toying with the idea of adding a friendly animal guide to lead you to your point of interest.

And it’s not just navigation that Maps is improving. Rather, the app is becoming an increasingly social experience. You will soon find a new tab in Google Maps called “For You” that is designed to tell you what you need to know about the places you care about. When a new business opens in your area, you’ll be notified, and also receive a recommendation as to whether or not you might enjoy the experience. Google is not only offering a list of trending destinations in a community but is also debuting a new feature called Match Score. This, the company says, helps you differentiate among all those four-star rated restaurants and pick the one you are most likely to enjoy.

“We use machine learning to generate this number, based on a few factors: What we know about a business, the food and drink preferences you’ve selected in Google Maps, places you’ve been to, and whether you’ve rated a restaurant or added it to a list,” Google explains in a blog post. “Your matches change as your own tastes and preferences evolve over time — it’s like your own expert sidekick, helping you quickly assess your options and confidently make a decision.” Simply tap on a destination within Maps to see its score.

You can also better plan group activities within maps with the new Shortlist function. Just long-press on a place you’re interested in visiting with your friends in order to add it to a shareable shortlist. When you’re ready to send it off to your friends and family members, recipients can either vote on their favorites or add more choices to the mix. And of course, once a decision has been made, you can use Google Maps to secure a reservation and book a ride.

The latest update to Google Maps isn’t quite as high tech, but it’s still quite nifty. If you’re running the app on your iPhone, you now have the option of replacing that boring old blue arrow with the icon of a car. “Depending on your mood, you can swap out the classic blue navigation arrow for a new icon—a stylish sedan, a timeless pickup truck, or a speedy SUV,” Google noted in a blog post. “Get started by tapping on the arrow while in driving navigation mode to select your vehicle of choice, and hit the road with a brand-new car, so you can have that new car feeling without the down payment.”

The rest of the aforementioned features should begin rolling out globally on both Android and iOS in the coming months.

Updated on May 22: Google Maps now lets you navigate using a car icon instead of an arrow. 

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