Google closed out the I/O conference with an enormous update to one of its most popular services, Google Maps.
Daniel Graf, the director of Google Maps, took to the I/O stage with a nice zinger directed towards Apple replacing Google Maps with their own app. Graf discussed the future of mobile Google Maps, which will be used much more as a discovery tool.
Now users can search for something generic, like “Burmese food” or “pizza” and results will be shown with ratings and reviews. Swipes to the left or right will scroll between results, and any reviews from someone in your Google+ circles will be highlighted. Google also integrated Zagat into Google Maps, showing a badge next to places that have been reviewed and providing some information from the Zagat review.
There is another new badge for offers, which notes when brands have special deals with Google. A user can see it on Google Maps, read information about it, and save it for later.
Graf mentioned that there are more than million public transit stops and more than 50 billion kilometers of turn-by-turn directions built into Google Maps’ navigation program. Now Google is introducing live coverage of traffic incidents, which will alert users and provide dynamic re-routes as soon as an accident occurs.
Google Maps can now look into buildings such as malls and tall skyscrapers to show what’s going on indoors. There is also an “explore” feature, which uses geo-location to show things in the immediate area divided into categories like “eat,” “drink” and “play.” These features should be coming to smartphones and tablets this summer.
For desktops, Google Maps has been rebuilt from the ground up to make it customized and immersive. Most of the updates were consistent with predictions IBTimes made previously.
Search results are now labeled on the map with descriptions, replacing the generic red pins. The sidebar has been replaced with cards, and a new filter will allow users to only see results that friends in their Google+ networks have visited.
When a user clicks on an image of a location, Google Maps flies from the top-down view to inside the picture, creating a 3-D immersive experience similar to Street View. The animation drew "oohs" and "ahhs" from the I/O crowd. Even cooler is that anyone can upload an image from a location to Google Maps, essentially crowd sourcing street view.
Google Maps now saves locations a user frequents and rates highly, and will show things similar to those landmarks. Like with the mobile update, the idea is help with discovery without requiring a search.
Perhaps the coolest update was the inclusion of Google Earth imagery into Google Maps. Without needing a separate plugin, users can view 3-D images of anywhere on the planet. Zoom out enough and you can even see the full planet, including real-time representations of clouds and star positions. Rotate around to where its dark, and an accurate representation of lights will display.
Invites to try out the new Google maps will be available Thursday morning at http://maps.google.com/preview (Note: the link is not active at the time of writing).