Google Maps celebrates 15th anniversary with introducing new features

Sarah El-Sheikh
14 Min Read

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, Google Maps came out with a new look along with a slightly redesigned app and some new features.

In a video conference, Senior Vice President of Google Maps Jen Fitzpatrick and Vice President of Google Dane Glasgow spoke to reporters from over 20 countries worldwide about Google Maps’ new updates and features, and went over the company’s efforts to develop the application over the years.

Fitzpatrick and Glasgow announced the new updates and new icon of the app. Google Maps has been designed with a refreshed look including an icon that is based on a key part of the tool since the very beginning— the pin — and represents the shift it has made from getting people to their destination to also helping them discover new places and experiences.

They also spoke about new features for the updated Google Maps app for Android and iOS. These features include five easy-to-access tabs: Explore, Commute, Saved, Contribute, and Updates.

Senior Vice President of Google Maps Jen Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick is one of the company’s first female engineers and a member of its first intern programme. She oversees Google Geo products, including Local Search, Google My Business, Street View, and Google Earth.

She co-founded Google’s user experience team and continues to focus on delivering meaningful and useful experiences to Google users worldwide. During her 20+ years at Google, Jen has led software development for a wide variety of products and teams including Google Search, AdWords, Google News, and Google Shopping.

Moreover, Glasgow’s role with Google Map includes overseeing product management, user experience, and analytics for the company’s geography products and technology. Google Geo assists over a billion users around the world to explore, navigate, and get things done.

“When I reflect on the journey of Google Maps over the past 15 years, I always remember that the experience nowadays is totally different than how it began. Navigation has changed throughout the years in a relatively short period of time, as I still can remember when we used big maps to reach our destinations,” Fitzpatrick said.

“It is not the transition from printed maps to digital maps only, it’s almost things we take for granted today, as Google Maps help in knowing the estimated time to reach their destination and explore conditions of traffic. Google Maps is an application that you can use anywhere in your pocket always,” she added.

She presented a slide showing the development of Google Maps, presenting all its versions.

Fitzpatrick continued: “Google Maps looks very different than its previous versions. How do I get from here to there? Over time, our mission has expanded from helping you navigate to also helping you discover the best places to go and things to do once you’re there. I remember seeing early versions of Google Maps and being amazed at how easily you could scroll, zoom, and search the world.”

“In earlier days, Google Maps has figured how to cover the entire world and that’s something we have made progress for a number of years. I also spent some time working on user experience, thinking of how to design our product to make it most useful, like how to design or where to put Print button on the page so that people could easily take their directions on the go,” she said.

Google mapped more than 200m places, of which 6.5bn bookmarked by users, across 220 countries to date, and added over 20m photos, reviews, ratings, and other pieces of content from users every day.

It also mapped more than 220 countries, surfaced information for about 200m places and businesses, and helped billions of people get from point A to point B with confidence. On an average day, users are navigating billions of kilometres.

“The world is always changing and we should always keep pace with these changes so to be updated, comprehensive, and accurate. New roads, neighbourhoods, and buildings were always added,” Fitzpatrick said.

Vice President of Google Dane Glasgow

She noted that her team worked with data operations team to manually trace common building outlines and develop machine learning models to recognise building edges and shapes.

“Google has mapped as many buildings in the last year as we did in the previous 10,” and is using the technology to better identify handwritten building numbers in areas where formal street signs are uncommon. In Nigeria’s Lagos, machine learning has helped Google Maps add 20,000 street names, 50,000 addresses, and 100,000 new businesses, she said.

Landscape of transportation has been also quickly changing rapidly. People use multiple types of transportation; walking, scooter, biking, motorcycle, or other types depending on the region where they live in.

The information that users are seeking from Google have been also changing. “Previously, people have been asking for restaurants by names, but in today world, people are expecting us to tell more and ask more complex questions. For example, users do not just ask about nearby pizza shop, but inquire about the best pizza shop, menu, when the restaurant will open, popular times of place, or which is the top plate in the restaurant,” she explained.

“Doing this well at scale requires a deep understanding of businesses and places which is where our active community of users comes in. Every day, people contribute more than 20m pieces of content to Google, like photos, reviews, and ratings. These contributions continually make our map richer and more helpful for everyone. They also power features like popular dishes at restaurants, up-to-date road closures, and wheelchair accessible routes. We’re also making it easy for you to get things done at these places within Google Maps—so you can go from finding a yoga studio to booking a class,” Fitzpatrick said.

For his part, Glasgow explained the roles of each of the new five updates of the app. He said that “Explore” helps users find a place nearby to grab lunch, enjoy live music, or play arcade games. This feature also provides information on places including ratings and reviews.

“Commute” helps the user make sure he’s on the most efficient route, whether traveling by car or public transit. Users can set up daily commute to get real-time traffic updates, travel times, and suggestions for alternative routes.

With “Saved”, people have saved more than 6.5bn places on Google Maps—from the new bakery across town to the famous restaurant on a vacation. Users can save new spots in one convenient place, for upcoming trips, and share recommendations based on places they’ve been.

“Contribute” allows hundreds of millions of people each year to contribute information that helps keep Google Maps up to date. With the new Contribute tab, users can easily share local knowledge, such as details about roads and addresses, missing places, business reviews, and photos.

“Updates” provides users with a feed of trending, must-see spots from local experts and publisher. In addition to discovering, saving, and sharing recommendations with their network.

“Our new transit features in the Google Maps help you stay informed when you’re taking public transportation,” Glasgow said. He explained that new insights were developed to help users plan travels with public transportation, which he said was expected to roll out globally in March. These insights include defining the condition of temperature and accessibility for special needs or for additional support. “Security Onboard” tells you if there is a security guard present, security cameras, and the number of carriages available on the subway.

Last year, Google Maps introduced a new feature enabling users to see how busy a certain train or bus could be based on user reviews, Glasglow noted.

These insights also include Women’s Section, as in regions where transit systems have designated women’s sections or carriages, and whether other passengers abide by it.

He said that last year, the app introduced “Live View” to help people quickly decide which way to go when you start a walking route with Google Maps. By combining Street View’s real-world imagery, machine learning, and smartphone sensors, Live View in Google Maps shows users surroundings with the directions overlaid in augmented reality.

“Over the coming months, we’ll be expanding Live View and testing new capabilities, starting with better assistance whenever you’re searching for a place. You’ll be able to quickly see how far away and in which direction a place is,” he added.

Daily News Egypt put questions to both Google officials about Google Maps’ features for motorcycle, personal information protection, and other new updates of the application.

How can Google Maps ensure protection of personal information?

In the latest app update, we’ve made it easier to access important account information like privacy settings, location sharing, and incognito mode, so that you can easily choose the settings that are right for you – just tap your account icon in the upper right-hand corner. We’ve introduced several changes over the last year to help you control your privacy. We introduced incognito mode for Maps, which means your Maps activity isn’t saved to your Google account. We provided auto-delete controls which allows Google to automatically delete your data so you keep only 3 to 18 months’ worth of data. We also allowed bulk delete in Timeline which helps you quickly find and delete multiple places from your Timeline and Location History all at once.

What is the difference between Nearby and Explore features?

In the Explore tab, you’ll find information, ratings, reviews, and more for about 200m places around the world, including local restaurants, nearby attractions, and city landmarks.

Will Google Maps feature ads in the updated app or in the future?

We don’t have any updates to share on this front at this time but broadly speaking, when it comes to ads in Maps, we know that Maps users are actively looking for commercial information and ads in Maps help connect users to the businesses they’re already looking for and care about. Ads in Maps are designed to integrate seamlessly into the natural Maps experience and we closely monitor how users respond to provide the best experience possible. For example, local campaigns are specifically designed to help local businesses drive visits to physical locations by showcasing those locations on Google Maps. We’re deeply focused on building an experience that is useful and not disruptive.

Can you tell us more details about how people can use Google Maps offline?

No data? No problem. You can still find your way even if you have spotty reception, an expensive data plan, or you are traveling abroad. You can download a map of an area so you can see directions and use turn by turn navigation even when you can’t get online.

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