Google maps are synonymous with directions: it’s hard to remember a time before we had Google Maps available at our fingertips, and had to find our way for ourselves, or use an old-school paper map.
Yet when we think of Google Maps – the navigation, the pinned services – it is very often an older version of the app that springs to mind. Google Maps has evolved, and with it are a host of new features that many users have failed to explore.
The original Google Maps
Google Maps was released in 2005, and in the intervening years has become the standard for digital mapping services. A year later, the tech giant came up with Street View, which has perhaps been one of the products most well-known features, and undoubtedly it’s most controversial. One of the biggest impacts it had for Google was that the company no longer had to rely on third parties for its information, and this is when Google Maps really grew into something bigger than was ever envisaged.
Soon a host of other features had been added, including restaurant ratings and those ever-useful traffic updates which commuters are so reliant upon. ETAs became one of the most important features of the nascent Google Maps too, and they remain so to this day.
Apple vs. Google
The arrival of Google Maps on Apple’s first iPhone in 2007 was another major turning point, and the days when Google and Apple openly collaborated seem long ago. These days they are bona fide rivals, and the development of Apple Maps in 2012 was a significant point in digital mapping history, and saw the end of the collaboration between the two tech behemoths.
The early Apple Maps was far from successful, and the early version was so user-unfriendly in terms of bugs that current Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to make a public apology. Those bugs were soon smoothed out, however, and today it is very much a genuine rival for the space so long monopolized by Google Maps, and of course is the standard on all Apple products, which quickly ditched Google Maps upon the development of Apple Maps.
Apple Maps is not the only rival, as other viable third-party offerings such as Citymapper – which actually uses the mapping data as developed by Google – compete for the digital map audience, which is high on everyone with a smartphone. That is a huge number of potential users, and the fundamental reason why there are so many other developers fighting for recognition in this lucrative space.
Microsoft got in on the act with Bing Maps, which truly raised the bar when it comes to such fesatures as the now-famous top-down aerial shot, allowing structures to be viewed from a 45-degree angle, for example. Nokia is another provider who continues to construct top-quality maps, and sells to a number of notable organizations, including Garmin, whose products are used in the sports industry, car manufacturers such as BMW, and even Amazon. They are some lucrative contracts.
There have even been entries into the market which rely upon the public to update the information, akin to Wikipedia. One such app is Open Street Map, and has proven a popular offering. To this day Google Maps remains the standard, but it remains a highly competitive space that will continue to see newcomers and old hands vie for world commination.
Google Maps today
As the world evolves then, so does the world of digital mapping, and so does Google Maps. One of the most recent additions to the service has been the ability to direct message the businesses that feature on Google Maps, as long as they utilize Google’s ‘My Business’ function. The ability to chat directly with businesses via instant messaging will appeal to many – for a start it offers the possibility of requiring information that is not available on the business’s website or that people are not prepared to call to get hold off.
Where we go from here seems to be towards the realm of using sensors which map indoor spaces and which immediately eliminate the need for GPS assistance – the mapping experiencing will become available offline. In addition, developments are taking place which will allow users to interact with the places around them, providing a more relevant experience in terms of the details maps provide.