Google has spent plenty of time this year updating its products to be more useful during the pandemic, and some of it's freshly announced Maps features serve that same purpose. Improvements to the COVID layer and live information about how busy buses and trains are will help to keep us safe when out and about, and the much-anticipated Driving Mode is finally arriving in preview.
We'll make no judgment of whether you're traveling for the holidays or not — the time of year always seems to amp up the urgency of things. If you do, Google may let you know what your hotel is doing to keep the coronavirus at bay. Even if you don't, the company will be introducing a couple of new ways to look over your travel memories.
Street View is one of the most useful features that Google uses to help users navigate via Search and Maps, and now its availability may be about to rise dramatically. In a new test, Google is allowing users to help capture Street View data without needing to use a special 360° camera.
Multilingual folks may have whole other worlds open to them as a result of their skills, but it can also be a point of frustration when using an Android phone — at least, when it comes to voice input. Google Assistant and Gboard have it bad enough, but apps like Google Maps and Chrome use a specific voice input method that rigidly follows the system language setting, turning that multilingual advantage into a pointless limitation.
You've always been able to run the Android Auto app on your phone to get a better/safer interface while driving, but Google doesn't widely advertise that functionality (the Auto app is mainly used for connecting to car entertainment systems), and it doesn't always work correctly. Google announced a replacement over a year ago at Google I/O, and it's finally showing up on phones.
Google introduced the Trusted Contacts app back in 2016 as a way to share location info with people who are close to you. The app gained a few more featuresover the years, but now it looks like Google has decided to cut off access to Trusted Contacts. If the app is already installed on your device, you'll be able to keep using it — but not for long.
When the pandemic first struck, Google Maps struggled to stay up to date with temporary business closures and vital coronavirus information, but that has changed over recent months, complete with a new COVID-19 layer. The service has become one of the most reliable resources for information on business closures, busyness, and finding takeaway options. To make moving around even safer, places' busyness and COVID-19 information will now be even more prominent in the app. There are also improvements to Live View, giving you more details on businesses without ever leaving the AR mode.
About two years ago, Google added sidebars to its web apps, enhancing its services with miniature versions of Calendar, Tasks, or Keep, and you can even integrate third-party applets. For the first time in ages, a web app has now received a new standard integration — you can now access an almost full-blown version of Maps right inside Google Calendar.
Google Maps may be getting a new driving mode, but it turns out that the engineers over there are having some fun with more trivial things as well. The Maps app has just added three vehicle icons that you can opt to replace the car navigation icon with, though you likely won't.
Google already has an in-car navigation UI in the form of Android Auto, as well as a future replacement in the form of the Assistant Driving Mode, but it seems to be implementing a very similar concept in Google Maps. We've seen music playback controls show up in Maps navigation before, but never the Android Auto-style buttons and home screen.