You don’t need to be working in the online industry to realise that recently Google has been going gangbusters on the little local arm of their corporate empire. Between the merger of the organic search results & Google Places to the planned acquisition of American daily deals giant Groupon for a whopping US$5.3 billion, Google has proven that they’re serious about their recent venture into the world local stage.
The most important platform for launching their new local initiatives is of course the ever popular Google Maps. This has quickly proven to be an invaluable service to users online, leading the search engine giant to shift their attention to Google Maps Mobile.
I recently updated the Google Maps app on my Samsung Galaxy S (Android), and at first glance it looks like it always has: a simple interface with a search, zoom and a couple of new buttons next to the search box. But I can tell you now, dear readers, that it is SO MUCH MORE than that – and here is why…
Did Someone Say Google Maps 3D (No Glasses)!
Probably one of the biggest features in this new version of Google Maps Mobile is its 3D buildings feature. Using vectorised models of buildings it overlays a virtual skyline in over 100 cities in the world (Australian readers – check out Melbourne VIC & Launceston TAS). To regular users of Google Earth this is no big breakthrough. Google has been accepting user-generated vectors of buildings for some time now, and these buildings are even skinned. The innovation comes from being able to pull that data into your mobile on the fly, great for navigating yourself around a foreign city, or even giving you a bird’s eye view of your own backyard. In summary, this is a pretty little feature, and although the “3D thing” is old-hat it has been applied well in this new update.
Tilt Me, Turn Me, Any Way You Want Me
Another feature Google has added to this latest updated is the ability to tilt, and rotate the map in any direction you please. This combined with the 3D buildings and Zoom could allow you to view the street you are on virtually. Once again this would be good for tourists identifying how far they are from the nearest English pub or for a businessperson seeing how many blocks they have to run to get to their client meeting on time. Another simple feature applied well.
Compass App? I Got A Compass Map!
One reason I really like this feature is that in the old Maps, if I was in a car with another person and while navigating them they missed the turn (totally their fault), I would have to navigate in reverse because if I tried to turn the phone sideways or upside down the screen would flip upright. Now all I have to do is wait for my incompetent friend to turn his/her car around and Google Maps rotates the entire map to the way I’m facing. This feature is heavily reliant on GPS as you would imagine, so if your phone doesn’t handle GPS very well (like my Samsung Galaxy S) then your Maps are going to be just as lost as you are!
The Cache Is A Lie (Not Really)
THIS is the feature I’ve been waiting for – Caching on your mobile device. For all you non techie people out there, caching simply means your phone automatically downloads and stores places you visit. For example, I live in St Leonards (northern suburb of Sydney Australia) and my Galaxy S has cached maps of St Leonards and surrounding suburbs including Sydney CBD. The purpose of this is to allow you to use Google Maps even if you lose your internet connection. This generally happens when you venture into a tunnel, enter an underground car park, jump into a lift or sign up with a dodgy phone company. Let me just repeat that for everyone: “you can use Google Maps even if you lose your internet connection”. That’s pretty amazing stuff!
Pro tip: the only time Google Maps caches a map is if you actually navigate to that map in the application. Don’t expect to wake up one day and find that Google Maps has finished downloading the earth to your mobile device!
There are plenty of other little features that Google has added to the latest version of Maps mobile, such as integration with Places and Latitude, but I’ll expand on them another time. For now, let me conclude by saying this: download/update Google Maps Mobile app and experience it for yourself!
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