Google Maps 2013

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This article was originally published in June 2013 during the beta period of the new Google Maps, which is now available for everyone to use.

The maps of the future…

Nexus phones, tablets and Android 5.0 were three things we didn’t get

at Google I/O 2013. What we did get, however, was something arguably of

far greater significance: the vision of a company with unified core

services and a grand master plan. It impressed us. And nowhere were we more impressed than the way in which a complete overhaul of Google Maps will sit at the heart of it.

So, having now spent some considerable time with the preview edition, does it live up to the hype?

Google Maps UI
The side panel is dead, replaced with just a search bar. How very Google.

Google Maps 2013 – User Interface

The

most notable change to the new Google Maps is the interface. Gone is

the longstanding side panel, replaced by a map that fills the screen and

a seemingly innocuous search bar. Yet it is from here that the magic

happens.

Google has built a dizzying amount of functionality

into the search bar. It is now the gateway not just to specific

addresses and categories (bar, restaurant, etc), but also to dynamic

routing and contextual information wherever and whatever you click on

the map.

Key to keeping things tidy is the introduction of

Google’s increasingly ubiquitous ‘card’ design, as seen in Google Now and

common Google search results. Cards sit under the search bar and split

themselves into clear sections that can also be stacked to switch

between different sets of information. Cards appear and disappear as

needed again saving space compared to the old side panel.

Initially

the system can seem transient compared to the permanence of the search

panel, but as it is far more contextually aware it is also smarter,

faster and more flexible. It brings you information with every click.

Google tried to do this in the previous version of Maps, creating

pop up windows above whatever you clicked, but the result simply covered

up the immediate surrounding area.

Google Maps London Eye
The Street View ‘pegman’ has retired. In its place come thumbnail previews.

Another

neat touch is the integration of Street View. Google has done away with

‘pegman’ and instead anywhere you click on the map will load a preview

thumbnail in a card under the search bar. This is ingenious and saves a

great deal of time dragging and dropping pegman around the screen.

Increasing numbers of locations offer Street View inside the premises

with the ‘See Inside’ option so you can check out the decor, not just

the store front.

User generated photography is also neatly

integrated into a scrolling gallery along the bottom of the map.

Wherever you are clicking, the gallery automatically updates showing

relevant photos and if one has a play icon a click will start a ‘photo

tour’ that smoothly morphs between the best images of their subject

(for example, the London Eye). Should the gallery get in the way it can

be minimised.

One thing that cannot be minimised though, is a gallery thumbnail named ‘Earth’.

Google Earth

The Google Maps 2013 does away with the old Satellite view in order to

integrate the mighty Google Earth. This was previously available in the

old Google Maps via a plug-in, but the new version takes things to a

whole new level.

Google Maps 3D
Major US cities include 3D buildings

Most

simply, Google is expanding the tilt view with three-dimensional

buildings akin to ‘flyover’ in Apple Maps. This remains largely US

focused at present, but what is there looks stunning and Google has

promised to soon expand to other major cities around the world. That

said there are occasional iOSapocalypse moments and we’re sure Apple will have something to say in court about infringements of flyover.

A

limitation is Earth doesn’t allow you to zoom as far into the map as

the old Satellite view, something we miss, but it does let you zoom much

much further out. Zoom out far enough and Maps shows you the earth

spinning in space with real-time Clouds.

Zoom out again and you

see Earth amongst the stars and the sun, with the relevant time zones

reflecting which parts of the earth are in day, night or twilight.

Countries in darkness are beautifully lit up by lights at their major

population points. We doubt this view will be useful for helping you

plan journeys, but is a wonderful reminder to keep life in perspective.

Google Maps earth
Google’s version of the Total Perspective Vortex

Aside

from the limited ability to zoom in with Earth though there is another

caveat and that is performance requirements. These are relatively

meagre, but old systems with under 512MB RAM, 500MB of drive space and a

DirectX9 GPU with 64MB of dedicated RAM will miss out.