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Google Maps gets stunning makeover for Web, enhancements to mobile

Dan Moren | May 16, 2013
Google Maps gets an eye-popping makeover for its venerable Web interface as well as bringing improvements to its mobile apps.

Beyond its focus on search, Google is also trying its hand on providing browseable information. The Google Maps apps features a new Explore interface, that lets you quickly look at different categories of points of interest: for example, where you should eat, or go for drinks, or shop, and so on. It's integrated with the same rating information you'll find on other local businesses, as well as Street View and other Google Maps features. In some places--"tens of thousands," according to Graf--you can even see the stores inside a larger location, like a mall.

Despite all the data it already has, Google's still thirsty for more: It's beefing up its directions by adding live coverage of traffic incidents--tapping will display information about the incident. More to the point, Google Maps can use that information to improve your experience, automatically rerouting you if a faster route becomes available. (It's worth noting that both of these are features are already available in Apple's Maps, though their accuracy might be questionable.)

Finally, the new Google Maps app will come not only to smartphones, but to tablets--both Android-based, as well as the iPad--when it launches this summer.

On the Web
The focus on mobile, however, doesn't mean that the tried-and-true Web interface is getting left by the wayside. If anything, it's getting pushed even father forward.

A brand new Google Maps experience was unveiled by Google Maps team members Bernhard Seefeld and Jonah Jones. The new version borrows much from the mobile implementation: It uses vector-based maps--with the WebGL framework for improved performance--for smooth, quick rendering and loading, and replaces the traditional widget-based navigation interface with a more point-and-click system: Much as in the mobile experience, "the map is the interface."

When you use the built-in search functionality, instead of being provided with a pane of search results, your hits appear on the map itself. Click any of them, and you'll get a useful description of the place, much as you do in the mobile app.

High quality imagery is a big part of Google's revamped design: In addition to the edge-to-edge design of the revamped maps, you can view 3D rotateable views of places--à la iOS 6's Flyovers--like St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Until now, that experience has been relegated to the Google Earth app, but now it's built right into the Web version. Some locations even offer 3D tours, allowing you to browse through images to see the inside; many of these tours are based on user-uploaded photos. Seefeld demonstrated that he had earlier in the day uploaded a shot of the keynote room, which he could access by clicking on San Francisco's Moscone Center in Google Maps.

 

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