Google Maps gets a prominent “Save to Offline” button and many new features

Google had added the feature to save a map offline, for phones long ago. This is useful when sometimes you do not have connectivity. The feature even though available for a while, was not used as by many people. The main reason being that the option was not visible enough or rather hidden too well for normal users to discover it and use it. Most people who use Google Maps do so while travelling for a quick reference, so most do not have time to spend looking at each of its features.

Today in a new update, Google Maps has introduced a more prominent “Save to Offline” button.

Offline Maps
Credits: Google

There are some other major upgrades and changes introduced too like integration with Uber. Another good addition is Google Maps showing which lane to stay in before taking a turn. This will be a lot more useful to anticipate where exactly you need to watch out for the right or left turn.

Finally there are some smaller additions which will be useful for business like showing closing times (last call) and can filter places based on prices and even user ratings.

Google Maps is still vastly more popular and honestly as a user myself, I think it is vastly better than all alternatives out there. Google should be commended on investing even more time and energy than it did before despite its leadership role. But this might be mainly because Google Maps is a product that is hugely important to collect data of the real world around us that users generate.

The updates are rolling out today itself on both Android and iOS versions.

Official Google Maps App for iPad Released

Google Maps had last year, much to the delight of iPhone users, released an official app for the phone. Apple had chucked Google Maps for their own Maps service which was less than satisfactory and ended up getting criticized. The criticism even had Apple’s CEO Tim Cook apologize for it. That is old news. Google has moved ahead with a new user-interface for its Maps on Android and has now rolled out the same of iOS users. The big news here is finally it has also released an official iPad version.

I checked out the app on my iPad and came away impressed. The android version on my phone is great for navigation and reviewing places but the iPad version pretty much matches feature to feature. The bigger screen also is much better for navigation purposes.

Features of Google Maps app on iPad

The search option to find locations and routes displayed are clean and without any information overload. While on the phone version it requires moving down to check alternate routes, because of the bigger screen on iPad, the several options can be viewed at the same time.

Search Routes on Google Maps - iPad
Several alternate routes displayed on Google Maps for iPad

The turn-by turn navigation UI is also a lot better with options to view toggle to satellite view. About a year ago, I was not very happy with the navigation mode for Google Maps and found it was not as accurate in India. But it has become extremely accurate over the past few months, especially in cities.

Navigation UI for Google Maps on iPad
Navigation UI for Google Maps on iPad

Finally one of my favorite features on Google Maps in the new UI, is the ease with which users can review places they visit. Simply click on any of the places you find on Google Maps and it allows users to review the place. I think this is Google’s way of leveraging its Google+ layer on Google Maps.

Review places easily - iPad Google Maps
Review places on Google Maps by simply tapping on it

I think it was about time for Google to release its Maps app officially for iPad. The browser version would work fine but it was tedious. Overall, I think in the maps business, with the acquisition of Waze, Google has more or less taken a unbeatable lead atleast for the foreseeable future.

Try out the new Google Maps app for iPad and drop in your comments.

Link: Google Maps for iPad

Google Maps v7.0.0 with new UI revealed for Android

After launching the revamped web version of Google Maps at the I/O 2013 event, Google has ported the same to Android now. The new Google Maps v7.0.0 available for Android 4.0.3+ devices. The update will be available on the Google Play store.

This new version of Google Maps brings a completely new interface. This new version also comes with updated navigational features like live traffic updates, dynamic re-routing and incident updates. These ensure to make your navigation quick and easy.

google-maps-7-navigation

Google has taken steps to make this new version more useful with a Foursquare-like Explore feature. The Explore section of this updated app shows some interesting places nearby to dine, drink, sleep or play. It seems like Google brought the Google Now cards-like interface to Google Maps. The sections in Explore and Navigation will show information to you in the form of Cards.

google-maps-7-explore

Google Maps v7.0.0 also rates place with 5 star rating system. This helps you find useful places. Offers from the multinational brands like Toys “R” Us and Michael’s are shown right inside this app. Zagat also works in partnership with Google to rate good restaurants.

New Google Maps for Other Devices

This new, improved Google Maps v7.0.0 will be available for tablets too. It’ll come with a dedicated tablet UI. iPhone and iPad versions of Google Maps will be available soon.

Some things that will be no longer available

Google Maps v7.0.0 also retires the old Latitude and the check-ins features. They’ll not be available from August 9th. Instead check-ins and location sharing is ported to Google+ app.

Also, you won’t be able to download maps for future use. The download option is removed. If you want to cache an area for future reference, you’ll have to type OK Maps in the search box and that area will be downloaded for offline use.

Download Google Maps v7.0.0 now

Google Maps v7.0.0 is already out on Google Play and will be available for all the devices soon. In case you’re enthusiastic about trying this app soon, you can get the updated APK file below. Note that this APK works only for those devices running Android 4.2 and more.

Links: Download Google Maps v7.0.0 APK | Google Maps Android

 

Round-up of Google I/O 2013 Announcements

Google I/O 2013 started with a 3-hour long keynote address. Though many had expected a new Android version, a new Nexus device, new Google X phone to be announced, Google did none of that. Instead they announced an upgrade to a host of their services and products.

Google_IO_2013

Here is a quick round-up of all the updates announced based on different products.

Android

The numbers for Android continue to be impressive. It has 900 million Android activations and over 48 Billion app installations. Though no new Android version was announced there were plenty of new updates for Android.

  • Along with Google Maps API v 2.0 for Android a new Location API was announced. The new Location API allowed features like Geofencing on maps.
  • Google Cloud Messaging allows developers to send messages to Android app users. New update includes upstream messaging which allows messaging from users right up to developer’s server.
  • Google Cloud Messaging will also enable synchronizing of notifications. This means if you remove a notification from one Android device, it will be removed your other Android device too.
  • A new range of APIs were announced under Google Play game services. These will allow users who play games to play a particular level on one device and then continue with the next level from another device.
  • It will support cross-platform gaming experience which includes the web.
  • Android Studio: Android Studio was a new IDE for developers. The IDE supports previews for various sized screens. This should encourage better designed tablet apps.
  • App Translation Service will allow developers to translate their apps into different languages. Google will send strings that need to be translated to approved vendor.
  • Google Play Music is a new service on Android devices that launched. The service streams music based on monthly subscription fee of $9.99 in the US.

Samsung Galaxy S4 (running Vanilla Android)

SG4_Google PLay

Google will be selling a Galaxy S4 on their Google Play store. The phone will ship with LTE support and 16GB memory. It will run the default Android version and latest Android updates will be made available with no delays. The phone will be bootloader unlocked.

The disappointing part was probably the high price tag of $649. The phone will be available on June 26.

Google+

Google might be slow in pushing new features on Google+ over the past year but they more than made up for it during this Google IO. They announced 41 new features specifically for Google+.

Google Plus News Stream

  • Google+ News Stream gets a new design. The design is two or three columned and allows looking through the feeds more or less like how we see it on the Google+ mobile apps.
  • Google+ is pushing more interactivity by displaying related hashtags.
  • Google+ Photos will have features like Auto Awesome that combines photos automatically to create new ones.
  • Multiple images can be used to create animated GIFs automatically.

Google’s unified messaging service: Hangouts

There was speculation that Google will be released a new unified messaging service. The name of the new service is Hangouts. This will replace Google Talk.

The service syncs your chats on text, voice and video across platforms. New Hangouts service is available as Chrome extension and as apps on Android and iOS.

Link: Hangouts

Google Search

  • Search app on Chrome will allow voice based searching which will be activated by voice. This means users will not even need to touch the microphone logo on the interface.
  • Google Now will support reminders being set by users.
  • Google Now will also supporting something called hot-word detection. It will allow voice based multiple search queries to be be answered with results but remaining in context.

Google Maps

  • Google Maps will get updated over the next month or so. The new updates will be on Android and iPhone apps.
  • A new app for iPad might be released soon.
  • Google Maps desktop (web) version will get new features that will display images from Google Earth, Street view from one place.
  • The new Google Maps version will be tailored to the individual users using the same data Google Now uses.
  • Google Maps literally brought about eye-candy in the form of 3D environments that will compete with Apple Map’s vector based layouts.

Link: Google Maps Preview

Though there was no big announcement, Google IO showcased a host of improvements. In all fairness they did probably make a big announcement in Android Studio which should really improve app development process for tablets. Google might have also not released a new version of Android just to make sure that Android ecosystem was not fragmented too much. Currently only 25% of Android phones are on Jelly Bean (Android 4.1 & 4.2).

What are your views on Google’s announcements? Do drop in your comments.

Google IO 2013 Keynote Address (Video)

Google Announces Mapathon 2013 Contest to Improve Maps in India

Google has lately taken a big interest in improving their maps for India. Like three months ago, they introduced traffic updates for Indian cities and before that they had introduced displaying bus routes.

But Google wants more hand-on data and they want volunteers to get more useful data for Google Maps. They have announced that initiative called Mapathon 2013.

Google_Mapathon_2013

What Google Maps wants?

You can register for Google’s Mapathon 2013 contest at this landing page. Ideally sign in with your Gmail account. The contest will run from Feb 12 to March 25. So you still have 3 days to go ahead and register before it starts.

What Google is trying to do here, is get a lot of Maps users to volunteer important information across India. Google is also offering prizes for the top 1000 contestants.

Prizes

  • Prizes on offer include 10 Samsung Galaxy Note 800 Android tablets.
  • 40 Samsung Galaxy S II phones.
  • 50 Flipkart gift coupons worth Rs. 5000.
  • The top 1000 contestants will get an free t-shirt too.

Chance to do good karma!

Thought prizes notwithstanding, I think it is a good idea to contribute to Google Maps from time to time. Especially with new information about important places like hospitals, correct names of roads and more.

Link: Google Mapathon 2013

Google seems to bring back Maps to Windows Phone after user outrage

Google Maps has never been officially available on Windows Phone, but users could always go to the Maps website on IE and it would work. Since yesterday, this is not the case. Windows Phone users are being redirected to google.com if they visit the Maps website.

google-maps-windows-phone

Google has officially responded saying –

We periodically test Google Maps compatibility with mobile browsers to make sure we deliver the best experience for those users.

In our last test, IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality. As a result, we chose to continue to redirect IE mobile users to Google.com where they could at least make local searches. The Firefox mobile browser did offer a somewhat better user experience and that’s why there is no redirect for those users.

Recent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect. We will continue to test Google Maps compatibility with other mobile browsers to ensure the best possible experience for users.

Here Google is trying to clear that Maps being not accessible on WP is not an anti-competitive practise by Google, rather it was a well thought-out product decision.

Is Google being evil?

This question is yet to be answered. First of all, Google hasn’t been playing well with Microsoft lately. They have removed Active Sync support from Gmail, restricted Microsoft from making a standalone YouTube client for WP (that’s the claim Microsoft makes) and lot more. Also, Microsoft will never stop making those hate ads on Google, like Gmail Man.

So when Google Maps started to redirect to google.com on WP devices, everyone thought this was just another plot by Google against Microsoft.

There’s been a lot of outrage by WP users saying that mobile website of Google Maps actually worked well before – this is opposite to Google is arguing.

At the end of the day, what matters is, whether Google Maps will work on WP devices in future. For which, the answer is yes.

Source: The Next Web

Google Celebrates Christmas with Santa Claus Tracker

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Google showing off their festival spirit by introducing some Easter Eggs. Today on Christmas eve, Google is taking it a bit further. It has unveiled a mobile phone app which allows users to track Santa Claus dropping of gifts around the globe in real-time.

Google along with the app has also introduced a Chrome extension and a landing page for tracking Santa.

Google Santa Tracker

Is Santa Tracker a waste of time by Google?

At first I thought that a Santa Tracker was just a waste of time by Google. After all what does it really achieve except a few smiles. But then in this day and age when a lot of little kids users tablets such apps can be greatly entertaining. Also Google might also be giving it’s Google Maps App and Google Earth app all the publicity it can, now that it has an official one available in Apple’s iTunes App Store.

That said, it would be a lot better Christmas for some, if Google had sorted out delays in shipping their Nexus 4 phones instead of tracking an imaginary character across the world.

Link: Google Santa Tracker | Android App | Chrome

Official Google Maps App Available for iPhones

Google Maps Apps is now available on iOS App store. The Google Maps App for iOS will include turn by turn navigation which is voice based, vector based maps and will support 2D and 3D layouts. When Apple introduced iOS 6 at the WWDC 2012 event, it decided to do away with Google Maps for its own Map service.

The newly approved Google Maps app on App store, has been created ground up. It includes an expandable info sheet for more details on businesses and landmarks.

Apple’s Google Maps Saga

Apple’s own Map service was disastrous as it simply did not match up to Google Maps. That was expected as Google has spent years collecting and refining the data for its maps feature. The issue became critical when users upgraded to iOS6 and found Google maps missing. Apple’s own mapping service had many errors and outside the U.S and Europe, it was more or less considered useless. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, did apologize for the maps fiasco and even went on to recommend using Bing and Nokia Maps along with Google Maps via the Safari browser.

Google had never released a official maps app on iOS platform. Since iPhone was introduced, Apple used date from Google Maps to create a default app for the iPhone. This meant that when people upgraded to iOS 6 there was no way to access the Google Maps app on the phone.

If you own a iPhone or iPad, download the official Google Maps App and do let us know about your views.

Link: Google Maps App for iOS

The Top 10 Things Indians are Searching on Google Maps

In the next few years, India will see a great deal of growth among internet users. India is also a hot market for the mobile industry and so it is no surprise that a lot of Indians are using Google to search for useful information. Also Google Maps is also increasing used by Indian and Google has now revealed the top 10 Google Maps searches that took place from end of May 2012 to early September 2012.

I was surprised to find that a search for courier services ranked at no 6, ahead of banks, petrol pumps. It looks like courier services across India need to get some sort of online presence to reach out to more people.

What do you search for on Google Maps? Do drop in your comments.

(via Google Blog)

Google Maps gets Live Traffic Updates for India

Google Maps has started showing traffic updates for some Indian cities. The cities it covers are Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Chennai, New Delhi and Hyderabad. The new traffic layer is available on Google Maps for desktop and also its Android app.

The new layer added for India allows users while travelling to quickly look up traffic density on their routes. The density is shown by using a colour code. Red means there is a a lot of traffic while green lanes means the traffic is relatively less. Yellow means there could be some slowdown for the traffic.

Google Maps Traffic for Indian Cities

This could be very useful for daily commuters who might be getting stuck in traffic jams. I live in Mumbai and I will surely find this very useful.

How Google Maps gets Traffic data?

The data is collected from various Google Maps app running on phones. This gives Google a good idea of the number of cars in a particular place. This data is then used to show traffic density on the Google Maps app itself. In other words, if more people use Google apps, the more accurate it becomes for showing traffic.

If there is not enough data that Google can collect, then it shows expected traffic based on historical data.

Google has also made voice based navigation available for India. This allows users to simply speak in the address and get turn by turn voice directions, making it less distracting for someone driving a car.

Thanks Mani Viswanathan for the tip.

Source: Google Blog