Google Maps has been on an absolute bender of new features in 2009, and the tweaks keep coming.
Crowdsourcing of Maps, Google Earth buildings and Street View have been the latest Maps binge, but late last week the Maps team rolled out dozens of aesthetic refinements to the look and feel of the maps, proclaiming the biggest such changes since it launched 4.7 years ago.
While the company has added a number of nuances to the digital topographies, such as walkways, address labels, bus stops, new countries and better satellite imagery, the look of the map hasn't changed much.
The new changes alter the color, density, typography and road styling worldwide for Maps and Hybrid views. Google Maps user experience designer Jonah Jones noted:
"For example, in map view, local and arterial roads have been narrowed at medium zooms to improve legibility, and the overall colours have been optimized to be easier on the eye and conflict less with other things (such as traffic, transit lines and search results) that we overlay onto the map. Hybrid roads have gained a crisp outline to make them easier to follow, and the overall look is now closer to an augmented satellite view instead of a simple overlay."
Unless you use Maps religiously, or take time to study the design and layout of the maps you do search for, you may not notice these refinements. Let's run through some:
For this map of San Francisco, there is greater contrast between background detail such as local roads, and neighborhoods and major arterial roads:
In Brasilia (yes, Brazil), new road widths make it easier to pick out fine detail in the local road shapes:
Here are cleaner rail lines for London's tube system:
Jones posts more Maps changes on the Maps blog here, but you can see where Google is going with this: Disambiguation between topographical components leads to better usability, which will keep Maps users from going elsewhere and could even bring more Maps users to the fold via word of mouth.
That will be crucial at a time when Yahoo, Microsoft and maybe even Apple are vying for users with their own map programs.