Google wants you to stop getting lost indoors

Indoor Maps has promise, but don't count on using it to avoid getting lost at the mall this season

Google Maps 6.0 for Android has an interesting twist – especially for those concerned Americans don't go outside often enough or, like me, are often criticized for having a hard time navigating within large buildings.

Google Maps now includes maps you can follow inside as well as out.

They're not turn-by-turn, GPS-enabled show-me-how-to-get-there displays like the ones that will be responsible for the complete inability of the next generation to find their own way to school or the mall in their flying cars.

Well, not quite.

They're essentially static images of the floor plans of buildings lots of people get lost in – airports, big malls like the gargantuan Mall of America in Minneapolis, hospitals.

The indoor maps pop up even when you're outside, if you zoom in on a particular building.

The My Location function will tell you what floor you're on in some buildings – if the GPS signal is clear enough inside the building or if the building management has installed repeaters as well as having uploaded their floor plans through an open-submission page Google put up for the purpose.

There aren't a ton of maps available yet, and those that are available aren't much more useful than they would be posted on a You Are Here sign in the building itself (which is pretty darn useful sometimes, though many are missing any actual You Are Here indicator, probably just to give a few laughs to security staffers watching on closed-circuit monitors).

Some stores have signed up as special sponsors, just go get a bit of an edge over their mall-adjacent competitors, or to show pity on starving wanderers in the big-box wilderness.

Macy's, Bloomingdales, Ikea, Home Depot all have layouts of many stores available, as do plenty of second-tier airports, a few first-tier airports, and a whole list of real-estate development or management companies whose names you don't know but whose properties you might.

Don't plan to get too much help from Google's indoor maps this shopping season, unless you're in an airport. You may find a few floor plans that are relevant, but most won't tell you the name of the store you can't remember but have to go to to get that thing your daughter wants, or the bookstore that's next to the place you used to like that closed down last year.

Haphazard, contextual-memory-based navigation just isn't compatible with what Google's Indoor Maps capability can deliver right now.

It's not even that relevant to the outdoor maps that work fairly well, except for the growing frustration obvious in the recorded direction-giving voice as the driver keeps taking turns it doesn't like or doesn't know about, refuses to take a U-turn in heavy traffic on the freeway as instructed, or insists on driving at the same speed as the barrier of traffic ahead rather than at the speed the GPS clearly believes the driver should.

When Indoor Maps gets floor plans and real-time geolocation for all the office buildings I habitually get lost in looking for the office of a stranger I'm supposed to interview, or even a company listed in the directory in the lobby but not in the hall on the floor where it's supposed to be, then it will be complete enough to be more of an odd little add-on to any of the primary GPS apps or devices I use.

Until then, just point me at the You Are Here sign. And give me detailed directions. They're often hard to find unless you can follow the sound of the security guys laughing.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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