If you haven't heard yet, Google Maps received its biggest Android update in, well, ever earlier this week. This is an all-new app in any practical sense, and it's going to take some getting used to. Not only has Google changed the way basically everything works in at least some sense of the word, it's also gone on something of a culling expedition - the new Maps app is way more streamlined and, frankly, simpler than the old one. There is less stuff.
This is going to upset some of you, because some of you used those things which are no longer in the app. The location history interface is gone. Latitude is gone (and will be dying on August 9th). Search result sorting and filters are gone. My Maps is gone (but it will be coming back). The dedicated Google Offers interface is gone. Google Local is gone (replaced by "Explore"). And those are just the bigger things that have been removed.
Anyway, let's get down to business: what's new, what's changed, and what's no longer present?
Layers are out, the view menu is in
Layers are not actually gone, they're just not called layers anymore. The little slideout menu hanging out on the left hand side of the map, aka the views menu, has replaced the layers interface. You can still have satellite view and traffic information while picking through search results or looking at directions, don't worry. Pretty much everything you did with layers can be accomplished with the views menu, it just works a little differently. This is also where the settings menu is housed. And for some reason, a link to go to Google Earth.
Two noteworthy things have gone from the old layers menu, though: terrain view and My Maps. The latter will return in a future update, according to Google.
Offline maps are still here, but different
In the first release of Maps 7.0, Google offered up a hacky solution for adding offline maps - just say or type "OK Maps" in the search dialog while the area you want to store is up. A small update released yesterday now adds a dedicated button to make the current area available offline, to find it, just tap the search bar and scroll down to the bottom.
The drawback to the new button is that if the area you have selected is too large, you have to keep opening the search UI over and over until the selected area is within the acceptable dimensions. That's actually pretty annoying, if I'm honest.
By the way, saving an area for offline use is now waaaaaaaaay faster. Remember when saving a big swath took like 15 minutes and was basically not worth it over a mobile data connection? It seems like Google has been hard at work on fixing this, and for whatever reason, the result is a much, much quicker experience.
Offline maps / cache can no longer can be cleared - the options are gone. If you want to clear these things, you will presumably have to clear the entire app cache from your phone's settings menu.
Navigation is basically completely different
Google promised a major overhaul of navigation, and they've provided it. Navigation looks different (read: a lot better), no longer feels like it's a "separate" app outside of Maps, and has a lot of new stuff going on. On the fly notifications about traffic incidents that allow you to route around heavy congestion is one of the biggies, though we'll have to see how reliable / useful that ends up being in practice.
Visually, everything looks way better, and road names and landmarks are much more readable with the new fonts. Functionally, once again, Google is probably going to upset some people here. Let's look at what's gone in terms of the turn-by-turn navigation experience.
- Street view preview: Gone.
- Route and alternates: Gone. You have to go back to the directions page in Maps to select a new route (easy enough - just tap the "x"), and those routes' times and traffic details aren't updated based on your present position, as far as we can tell. Hopefully that gets fixed.
- Layers menu: Gone. Replaced by satellite view toggle, and traffic is displayed by default (gas stations, ATMs, restaurants etc. are all gone).
- Other options: Screen dimming is gone (presumably this is now automatic), shortcuts to search, set destination, and help are gone as well.
- On-screen zoom in / out buttons: Gone.
What's been added? Well, there's a convenient little "x" in bottom left corner that lets you exit navigation immediately and go back to the directions / routing view in Maps. This does make the loss of the alternate routes feature a little more bearable, and technically requires fewer taps to change route.
If you want to go to the next step in the route manually, you now swipe from left to right instead of tapping on the arrow. Because gestures.
Traffic incidents are also now displayed inside the navigation UI, and are very clearly marked with various symbols. Tapping on them displays the nature of the incident and any other information inside of a card at the top of the display. These are also displayed, as they have been for a while, in the main maps interface when the traffic layer is up.
This is a brand-new item you'll notice in the search bar. Just tap on the two intertwining roads, and you'll get the new directions UI. It's beautiful. It's also pretty smart. If you're not near home or work, they'll be suggested as your top two suggested destinations (my location is your starting point by default). Your other probable destinations (based on check-ins, saved places, search history, etc.) will also appear as suggestions. This really is pretty dang convenient.
To change your mode of transit (which can be done up until you actually select a final route), just use the little tabs up at the top of the screen. There's also now a dedicated "flip start / end point" button on the right hand side of your start point and destination. Fantastic.
Next to the directions shortcut is a little bust of a person - that's your profile. Tap it, and it'll show your home and work addresses, the number of Google reviews you've written (you can see the reviews by tapping), recently saved places, and recently access places (eg, your history). It's pretty neat, though I'm not sure why it needed a dedicate button in what is arguably the most prominent section of the app.
Latitude is dead
On August 9th, Latitude will be no more. That's OK with me, because I never thought Latitude was all that great in the first place as check-in networks go, but the service did have its dedicated users. They will also bemoan Google's suggested alternative: Google+ location sharing, which A.) is not part of the Maps app (at least for now), and B.) not much of a replacement for Latitude in general, so much as "the only other Google option." There's even a button in the view menu dedicated to redirecting confused Latituders.
Latitude is not part of the new Maps app, and it never will be. RIP Latitude.
Location history data is no longer accessible
The only access you have to Google's Location History service on Android now comes in the form of a toggle: on or off. The location history interface is no longer in the Maps app, but is still accessible on the web at maps.google.com/locationhistory. The location history service is still running, though, as it's a big part of what powers Google Now's location-sensitive suggestions. You just don't get the raw data on your device anymore.
It is unclear if the location history UI will make a return, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Maps history: finally a way to go back in time
While the few recent locations the search dialogue in Maps brings up are alright, they're really no substitute for a full history of the places you've been. There's now a dedicated Maps history area, accessible via the settings menu. Maps history is also integrated into the search dialogue, below the "Services" card, showing places from your history that are near your current location. History includes things like old Latitude check-ins, Google+ check-ins, your home / work address, starred places (now called "saved" locations), as well as the obvious stuff like search queries and places you've navigated / gotten directions to in the past. Items can be deleted from your history, too.
Maps labs and display settings are gone
This also will undoubtedly piss off a great horde of internet commenters - all of the labs and display options from the old version of Maps are gone. In fact, labs is gone. No more toggle for zoom in / out buttons, no more map scale, no big font, no measuring tool, elevation profile in walking / biking directions, and no intersection explorer (though Intersection Explorer is also its own app). It is unclear at this point if Google intends to bring any of these options back.
Google Offers takes a back seat
Google Offers is integrated into the new Maps app, but you'll only see it in your search results or through the Explore interface. You can no longer just pull up a list of nearby offers, which is probably for the best, since Google Offers has its own app and never really made sense as a dedicated part of the Maps app. One less button to deal with. You can still take advantage of offers directly through the Maps app, you just have to stumble upon one in the first place.
The traffic widget is gone, the old directions widget sort of replaces it
I won't get crazy in depth here, because we've actually got a whole article up about this change and the directions widget - check it out. The tl;dr is that the old traffic time estimate widget you could set to certain destinations is gone, but the old directions wdiget makes a decent replacement, bringing up the directions interface for a pre-set destination (or turn by turn navigation) and giving you time estimates and route options. It's more useful, but you do lose the at-a-glance information the old traffic widget.
Search filters and sorting are gone
There is no way to sort or filter results in Google Maps 7.0. I can imagine this is going to get a lot of people fuming, and I'll admit, it's not obvious why Google removed them. They were rather ugly and added a lot of clutter to the results page, but some people are going to get seriously flustered over this.
It's entirely possible the Maps team is working on a new implementation, but I think it's equally likely someone decided they just weren't used or useful enough to warrant the space they consumed. There's also the fact that they really weren't that great in practice in many situations. Dollar sign cost ratings are extremely subjective (based on region, cuisine, etc.), and looking for businesses "open now" automatically removed those without listed hours from the results. The few times I've used Maps to scout out potential dinner choices, I rarely even used the filters for fear of removing a potentially good choice because I didn't really trust Google's data.
The fact that the Explore interface now lets you select from many more categories (such as type of restaurant), though, negates the utility of some of the filters, and pertinent information like hours, type of restaurant, cost, star rating, and even Zagat awards are now clearly displayed on each restaurant's card in the result list.
My general inclination here is that Google wants you to get away from a "search and refine" mentality (using rules and data manipulation techniques to get the best possible set of results), and push you toward using the Explore tool instead.
Explore is the new Google Local (may not be available in some regions)
Explore is the replacement for Google Local, and apparently for search filtering and sorting. And by replacement, I mean "the thing Google expects you to use instead of those things." Explore feels like the bridge between Google Now and Maps, because it's more than just a bunch of nested categories of things - it's Google's collective knowledge of points of interest in a given area.
You access Explore by tapping the search bar, and hitting the Explore card. This isn't the greatest implementation, and I've noticed on several occasions that sometimes the Explore card just fails to load when I open the search dialog. Perhaps a second shortcut in the left-hand sidebar might be a good idea, because right now this is way too annoying to get to.
Anyway, exploration is broken down into five categories - eat, drink, shop, play, and sleep. Your results are based on the currently highlighted map area.
For "eat," you then get subcategories presented as more cards. The "more categories" section also seems to intelligently adjust the types of restaurants it will suggest based on where you are.The first category is "Local favorites," which comprises highly rated restaurants with lots of reviews or, apparently, restaurants rated highly by Google "top reviewers." I would bet confidently that popularity among locals also plays into the results, because the top 3 in my area are definitely local hotspots.
I have no idea how one gets a "top reviewer" badge in Google's review system, but I noticed one guy gave like a dozen restaurants in my area 5 stars, many of which I know to be less than fantastic. Google, I hate to break it to you, but going on a 5-star-everything rampage does not a "top reviewer" make. Tl;dr - Google is still dumb when it doesn't have good data to rely on. I switched to a more dense region for exploration and the results in this tab were much better.
Another interesting card is "popular with tourists." Yes, Google is actually indexing the popularity of places in an area based upon whether or not people who visit them are from that region. This is really, really cool. Based on the results, it seems about right, too.
When you tap on a result in Explore, you fly back to the map with the place highlighted and a little location tab at the bottom of the screen. Pull up, and you get the full place card. You can also swipe left or right on this tab and scroll through other results on the map for whatever it is you're exploring. Oddly, you can't explore on the map without tapping a result first. This seems very weird to me - there should be a way out to the map that is more obvious.
While Explore is by no means perfect, it's a hell of a lot better than Google Local was, and the presentation of results is solid.
Place cards were completely redesigned
This is most easily explained with a side-by-side comparison. On the left is the old place card. On the right is the new one.
Everything has been rearranged. Places now display categories (US Bank is, you guessed it, a "Bank"), reporting a problem with a listing is featured front and center (it never made sense to me that Google hid it in the overflow menu), and the whole star / directions / share / call button setup has been rearranged completely. There's no longer a separate tab for photos, either. This is a million times cleaner and easier to visually parse. Well done.
One notable feature removed from place cards is the "nearby places" section. I can't say I ever used it, but it was kind of neat, I suppose.
Who doesn't like a gesture or two? Like I talked about in explore, results can be flipped through while in the maps interface by swiping left or right along the white bar on the bottom of the UI. This also works for directions - just swipe on the tab at the bottom while you have the directions up on the map, and you'll switch routes. Pull up on the tab to go back to the directions / place page.
Google also claims that swiping from left to right with two fingers will open the views tab, but it doesn't work on any of my devices.
Fused location provider should reduce battery consumption - a lot
Google announced the fused location provider as part of the new Location API at Google I/O in May. They promised 1% battery drain per hour with the new FLP working in the background, and early reports seem to confirm that the new version of Google Maps is dramatically less power-hungry. The fused location provider intelligently combines cell network, Wi-Fi, and GPS (when needed) location information from your devices and then manages your location in the cloud (meaning Google has yet another 'Play Store device only' hook in Android), and sends it back to apps and services requesting your location. As a result, you'll notice Maps no longer has a bunch of secondary services running constantly. As more apps adopt the FLP (and they will), the battery-saving benefits will only increase. Maps' network location gathering has always been a power drain issue on Android, and this new update seems to do a lot to rectify that
The smaller stuff
- The services card, aka everything else: The services card sits below the Explore card in the search dialogue. This is where you'll be able to find gas stations, pharmacies, convenience stores, parking, an ATM, or one another dozen or so POIs. It works. (May not be available in some regions.)
- Search for contacts directly from the Maps app: This has been on iOS for quite some time, but it's just now come to Android. Just start typing a contact's name (that is synced with Google and has an address in their contact card), and you'll see that contact in the list of updating suggested results. Handy. (May not be available in some regions.)
- Shake to report a bug: In the settings menu, there is a toggle for shaking your phone to report a bug in Maps. I think this is hilarious.
- Home and work locations can be edited: No more diving into the bowels of Google Now to switch your home and work locations. Just edit directly from the Maps settings menu.
- The Wikipedia layer is gone: And nobody cared.
- Location settings now goes to Google location settings: Instead of Latitude, location settings sends you to your Google account location settings, where you can toggled location reporting and location history for each of your accounts, as well as Google Apps location access.
- Distance units: You can now force your maps into miles or kilometers, or just leave the setting on "automatic."
- Earlier / Later Trips in transit directions: The option to display a range of transit departure times has been removed - you now must manually adjust your departure time to see other options.
If you think we missed a new feature, or the removal of an old one, let us know in the comments - we'll add it in.