Google Maps celebrates 15th birthday with new updates

The world's most popular navigation platform has added a few more interesting features as it hits 15 - but Google Maps has no plan to merge with Waze

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Google Maps
On its 15th birthday, Google Maps has released a major app update

If you’ve opened the Google Maps to navigate anywhere over the past few days, you may have noticed something different.

It’s hard to believe Google Maps has now been with us 15 years, yet here we are. The world’s foremost navigation tool has released a few new updates, which the team revealed to #GNTECH in a UAE exclusive ahead of their roll-out.

The app also has a new logo:

“In 2020, Google Maps now has high-quality maps for more than 220 countries and territories around the world,” says Jen Fitzpatrick, Senior VP of Google Maps. “On an average day, people worldwide drive more than one billion kilometres using Google Maps, and today we have information including not only facts but also ratings, reviews, photos and more for over 200 million businesses and places all around the world.

“However, we recognise that the real world is constantly changing and that pushes us to always be thinking about how the Maps experience also needs to evolve.”

Here are some of features being added in the near future.

Google Maps: AR orientation

When you’re going somewhere using Google Maps’ navigation, you will soon be able to use Live View augmented reality (AR) to follow your route easier.

“Last year, we started to roll out Live View to users, which gave everyone the capability of having the instructions for their walking navigation placed right into the camera view,” says Dane Glasgow, VP for Product at Google Maps.

“Users have responded really well to this. It’s a great way to help navigate the world. It’s based on our Street View imagery and so it’s available in all the places we have Street View and it brings together our Street View imagery with some really deep machine learning and AI, coupled with the sensors and technology that are on the phone.”

Google Maps: Transit improvements

One of the most useful updates coming to Maps is the predicted crowdedness feature for transit. “What that did was really help users understand how likely a particular route was going to be crowded, whether it was a bus or train or a subway,” explains Glasgow.

Other transit-related additions coming to the app include temperature – how hot or cold the particular route will be – and accessibility. Additionally, Maps will soon let you know whether there are women-only carriages or security on a route.

The transit improvements will be rolled out in a phased manner through March.

Google Maps: AI and AR

“We’ve been increasingly leveraging machine learning and AI in our map-making and one of the places where that’s manifested in the user experience is in Live View,” says Glasgow. Last year, Google launched its Live View feature, which displayed instructions for users’ walking navigation right on the camera view.

“Users have been asking for ways to do some quick things without having to necessarily having to start a navigation session and this is one of the first things that we’ll be rolling out on top of what the work that we’ve done in Live View.”

Google Maps: The Waze link

After Google’s acquisition of Waze in 2013, I did fear that the search giant might take this opportunity to finally phase out the speed trap-monitoring start-up. Google reassured me that this wouldn’t be the case. “We run them as two separate teams, primarily because the Waze team right now is quite focused on its Carpool service, which they’ve been piloting and scaling up over the past year or more and [we’re] giving them some time and space to really improve that model,” explains Fitzpatrick.

“The teams do collaborate and share data in a variety of ways, but there are no plans beyond that to bring the experiences more closely together at this point in time.”