While Apple continues to struggle with its broken Maps app, Google continues to race ahead. It just launched a new version of Maps for Android (iOS coming soon) and a version for the desktop--which I’m going to tell you about--is out for public beta testing. If you’re interested, just go to Google Maps and you’ll be asked if you’d like to try it out. You should; it’s pretty cool. (My colleague Jim Martin tested the new Maps for Android and had reservations.)
This version of maps is commercial minded, but not in an intrusive way. Here’s how it works:
Suppose I’m looking for a bar somewhere near Mission Street here in San Francisco--something I’ve been known to do. If I haven’t left the house yet, I can go to the new GoogleMaps, type in “bars near Mission Street,” and hello! Here’s a bunch. When the map redraws, this is what I’ll see:
If I decide I’m curious about a watering hole called Amnesia, I can click on it, and a mini-review from Zagat pops up on my screen. There’s a thumbnail photo with the review; I can expand it with a click.
Search results are labeled directly on the map. When you go the info card, you’ll also see a link to reviews; some of which have come from your Google+ friends.
Enough with the drinking. Maybe I’m thinking of a trip to the beautiful Oregon coast and I’m curious about a spot I’ve heard about: Harris Beach State Park. Type it in, see it on the map and when I go the info card, up comes a thumbnail that opens up into what Google calls a carousal that contains 10 really good pictures.
A lot of the same functionality is contained in the Android version of Maps, which I’ve haven’t tried out.
There is one thing about Maps that bothers me, and it isn’t really about Maps.
I mentioned that some of the restaurant reviews in Maps come from your contacts on Google +. This is yet another example of how Google, and Facebook, for that matter, aggregate all sorts of information about us and put it in various places on the Web.
That aside, and it’s a much broader issue than Google Maps, I really like the new desktop version and am anxious to try out the mobile version on my iPhone as soon as it’s ready.