I must say, it has been a long while since I was wowed by a mobile application as much as I’ve been by the new Google Maps.
Or have I? Could it be the vacuum created by Apple, digging its own map-grave, pulling TomTom in with him? Or is it truly something intrinsic to the Google Maps app? Regardless, with Maps, Google one upped Apple again. The recent flurry of articles touting Apple’s loss of edge and capacity to innovate might not be that far off, at least for now.
If you are still doubting the mobile take over, Google becoming THE king of mobile development should give you a hint. If Google is, to you, any yardstick in the technology world. But take a look at the app rather and let me in the comments what you think. The irony is that some are seriously wondering whether the app’s iOS version turned out better than its Android counterpart.
A Slick Welcome & TOS screen
… starts you off. If Microsoft had made Time News Roman it’s battle font, which it recently trading it for Calibri, and Apple kept its ubiquitous Gill Sans; Google has resolutely adopted the modern and slimmer Helvetica New.
Almost a year ago, before Apple’s shameless boot, there was already chatter of Google Maps leveraging crowd data for more accurate traffic info. It is now a reality, the next screen in the app explains why the crowd leverage and that info sharing can be turned on/off.
Strangely, even though it remains an effort to sell better advertising, this open hand and respect of free will does go a long way in my mind. I wonder now what Apple, with probably the same objective, was thinking when its very own Scott Forestall invited TomTom and Yelp over for a chat in the ivory tower.
At this point we might want to stop calling it an advertising medium, since we all carry it in our pockets and since it knows more about us than we care to remember. Let us instead, call the juice that powers Google apps, “relevant content”. I hope you’ll pardon my marketing dark side bias on this one.
Seamless Cross Over
In that very context, you are then invited to sign in to Google Maps. Not under the pretenses of being served even more “relevant content”, but so you are able to seamlessly use Maps between computer and mobile contexts.
The stunning design and clarity than hits you (or is it that vacuum again). A familiar green color is to be noticed when looking at driving directions and comparing those to Apple Map App. The lower corner 3 dots open a right hand pane, allowing the addition of layers to the map such as satellite view, traffic, transit (inexistant in Apple’s app).
Relevance, Relevance, Relevance
When searching for a destination, Google Maps will prioritize searching its content over yours. Yes it is in Google’s interest but it’s a win-win because Google’s data is the one I need and here’s why: when you start entering a name in (let’s call it) the Apple Map or even the old Google Map, the app started looking into your adress book, that’s a problem.
You’ll tell me in the comment box but in my 5 years of using Google Maps, 95% of my searches did not involve an adress I had in my contacts. For those I either knew where they lived or asked them to text me their address on my way to visit them; and really never bothered adding it to my contacts. So what’s more relevant to your navigational needs? A map searching Google data or one searching your contact list?
And let me say that Google instant here takes on all itssignificance and power. That afternoon I happened to have a meeting at a co-working place. I knew its location but wanted to test the app on my way there. Of course I didn’t know the exact address! Before the new Google Maps, I would have had to search the location in Safari before using a map app. Now all I had to do was to start typing the place’s name and there it was!
Voice Guidance in Sleep Mode
A quick route overview, a traffic warning, a few routing option and a judiciously (close to your right thumb) “start” button gets you on your merry way.
The app will then proceed to faithfully voice-guide you to your destination, even if you happen to exit the app or turn off your screen, the lady — of whom you can’t change the voice — will continue her directions litanie.
Keep Calm and Drive
A very pleasant surprise was the app’s ability to automatically reroute you, had you missed your exit / turn.
Although the “rerouting” did take a while, just in time to indicate the next exit as the fall back route.
“Relevant Content” Again and Always
How many times did you get to your destination (according to the map) but had to spend another 5 or 10 minutes figuring out where the place actually was. Announcing the destination on the right or the left was a great improvement; street view is yet another improvement to make sure Google stays in our pockets and relevant.
What impact do you think this will have on the need for brick and mortar businesses to have their “Google Place” well stocked with photos and reviews: we now have less of a need to go there before deciding to actually “be” there.
An increasingly detailed trove of pictures and reviews is now sitting right in our pockets.
Finally, Google Maps makes sure to not run into the same issue Apple Maps recently ran into. Having Australiaand discouraging the use of Apple Maps following a bunch of tourists getting stranded because of the app.
Have you tried the new Google Maps app? What do you think?