NATHAN OLIVAREZ-GILES, March 6, 2014
Like it or not, Google Maps is about to look radically different. Over the next couple weeks, Google is rolling out a new version of its Web-based Maps that’s been redesigned and rethought in just about every way possible. Google announced these changes at a conference last May, and rolled out the change to 20% of Maps users in preview mode. Now, the rest of the world’s Maps users are getting the new look.
Try not to be shocked by the new design. The white bar on the left is gone—all you see at first is a map that consumes the entire browser window, with a simple white search box in the top left corner. The look is both beautiful and unfamiliar, but don’t worry. Over months of use, we’ve found that the new Maps is just as easy to use as the old version, if not easier. In nearly every way, the new Maps is a better experience once you get the hang of it.
Here are a few key features to go check out:
Easy to access Google Earth, Street View and photos
In the bottom right hand corner, you’ll see “Pegman,” the little yellow icon who indicates Street View. If you click on Pegman, every street with Street View imagery will turn blue. Drop him anywhere on the map, and you’ll get a ground-level view of the surroundings.
If you click on the photos beside Pegman, you’ll see what landmarks nearby have other imagery—Photo Spheres, user-submitted photos and even Google Earth satellite shots. All of this has been available on Google Maps and other services for years, but in the new Maps, it’s all easily accessible in one place.
Do you have a favorite venue? Just search in Maps for your ballpark, concert hall, playhouse or blues bar of choice, and you’ll see a results card with a link to upcoming events. Click it, and a list of upcoming acts appears. Unfortunately, this feature doesn’t work for movie theaters, so don’t go looking for showtimes here.
Public transit slider
If you rely on public transit, you’re going to love this feature. Just type your start and end points in Maps’ search bar, then click on the public transit icon. (It looks like a train.) After you do this, white cards that display transit results show up beneath the search bar. At the bottom, you’ll see a link to more options and times. When you click that, you’ll be taken to a new view that shows multiple public transit options with different start times. You’ll even get an estimate on the cost of the full trip’s train or bus fare.
Finding a route to multiple locations is easier than before in the new Maps too. Just enter a starting point and a destination in the search bar, then click the plus sign below to add more stops.
Flight, hotel and restaurant reservations
Another standout new feature is reservations. Whenever you’re searching for an airport, hotel or restaurant you’re already booked for, your flight time, check-in time or dine time all auto populate in the cards below the search bar. This feature only works if you’re logged into your Google account, however. Google reads the reservation data from messages in your Gmail in order to pull off this trick.