Google Maps gets improved search, navigation and design features on Android

Google Latitude and check-ins are also killed off as part of the update

By Zach Miners, IDG News Service |  

Google is incorporating several new features into its Maps app on Android-powered devices -- which are also coming soon to iOS -- to make it easier to search and navigate using the service.

The updates, which were announced Wednesday by the company, also include for the first time a dedicated Maps design for Android tablets.

The updated app is gradually rolling out globally in the Google Play Store, Google Maps director Daniel Graf said in a blog post, and will be available "soon" in Apple's App Store, which incidentally turned 5 years old Wednesday.

Additionally, two longstanding Maps features serving a more social purpose -- Google Latitude and check-ins -- are being killed off as part of the update, and instead are transitioning over to the Google+ social network.

All told, the changes constitute "a new mapping experience that makes exploring the world and getting to the places that matter to you a lot faster and easier," Graf said.

For instance, the update lets users browse places without typing by displaying a series of cards after tapping on the app's search box. Covering categories like "eat," "drink," "shop," "play" or "sleep," the cards reveal nearby places and businesses that now also incorporate a five-star rating system to show how people's friends and others have rated those places.

Google aims to improve the app's navigation features by incorporating reports of problems on the road that users can tap to see incident details. While on the road, the app will alert users if a better route becomes available and reroute people to their destination faster, Graf said.

Those sorts of tools mirror the functionality of social mapping app Waze, which Google bought last month for as much as US$1.3 billion, reports said. The deal was geared toward adding more real-time navigation tools to Google's own Maps software.

Waze's technology, however, was not incorporated into Maps' new incident reporting features, a Google spokeswoman said. Google currently gets that type of information from other data providers such as TomTom, she said. The company declined to specify a timeline for when Waze's technology might be incorporated into future Google products.

Google has already provided GPS-based navigation tools on Android devices, which give voice guidance and turn-by-turn commands to help get people to their destination.

Finally, all of Maps' new features are being brought to a new dedicated app for Android tablets, which will be coming soon to the iPad, Google said.

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