Google Maps Desktop Update Improves Street View Tie-In and More

Google Maps, which underwent a major revamping earlier in 2013, adds new features to make it more helpful for users.

Google Maps for the desktop is now getting even more helpful for users, thanks to better guidance when using Street View images, new 3D "Earth Tours" and improved step-by-step navigating instructions for travelers.

The latest improvements were unveiled by Kelvin Ho, product manager for Google Maps, in a Nov. 6 post on the Google Lat Long Blog.

"As you gear up for the holidays, you can easily plan your vacation with the new Google Maps for desktop," wrote Ho. "With the latest updates, Earth Tours will take you on a virtual trip through cities and natural wonders in full 3D, while Street View imagery and real time traffic incidents will help to ensure smooth travels."

Using Street View, travelers can explore destinations in more than 50 countries around the globe, wrote Ho, and now they can get assistance from Google's Pegman mascot when the little yellow robot logo is clicked in the bottom right of a Google Maps browser page.

"Click on Pegman, and areas with Street View imagery will light up in blue," wrote Ho. "For a street-level preview, hover over any highlighted road, then click to dive into that location."

Users can now also find more details by zooming in on their chosen maps. "As you zoom in, you'll also see blue circles indicating where you can find user-uploaded photos, including Photo Spheres—immersive, 360-degree panoramas taken from land, air and sea," wrote Ho. "Click on a yellow circle to see inside restaurants, museums and more. With these features, you can explore an increasing variety of locations, inside and out."

The new Earth Tours feature is available to provide beautiful 3D imagery of buildings and terrain for thousands of locations from above using Google images, wrote Ho. The Earth Tours, however, are only viewable using WebGL-enabled browsers, including Google Chrome of Mozilla Firefox. "Wherever you see the Earth Tour icon, you can click, sit back and get a virtual tour from a soaring angle. Dive into Boston or circle the Alps," wrote Ho.

The improved navigational tools in Google Maps mean that users will now get more information as they travel unfamiliar routes, wrote Ho. "With the new step-by-step preview, you can see a street-level snapshot of each decision point to know exactly where you're going and what to expect," he wrote. "Just click 'Preview steps' from the directions card and advance through for a quick study of your trip, including transfers for transit."

Also being integrated into desktop Google Maps services are Waze traffic reports so that travelers can get real-time road reports about accidents, delays and more, wrote Ho. "When you search for driving directions, you'll now see congestion along the route and real-time incidents on the map, including data reported by Waze."

Google acquired Waze, a crowd-based traffic and navigation app for mobile devices, in June 2013 for $1.3 billion, and integrated it into Google Maps for mobile users in August 2013.

Google Maps users who opted into the new Google Maps preview will be able to see and use some of the new features immediately, according to Ho. Other features will roll out in the coming weeks.

In October, Google returned the multiple destination feature to the new Google Maps after dropping it in the latest version. The multiple destination capability that was in earlier versions of Google Maps allowed users to plan a trip from point A to point B, then add a point C in as well, making it a helpful tool for planning a trip to a string of destinations. It helped users plan distances, routes and stops along the way, and its disappearance from the reworked Google Maps earlier this summer was panned by many users on Google+ comment pages.

Google Maps got a preview of its new look in May at the annual Google I/O Developers Conference, including a more interactive look and feel. The new Google Maps takes a novel approach to how people use online and mobile maps, gaining the ability to instantly respond to user inputs, making recommendations on places to visit and highlighting information that matters most during a map inquiry. The next generation of the Maps service essentially will create a map that is unique to each user and his or her needs, based on the input from the user.

Earlier in October, Google and Amtrak unveiled a new service that uses Google Maps to offer Amtrak customers their first-ever real-time, interactive train locator maps for mobile users so they can check train arrival and departure times on the run. So far, the early version of the maps Website is aimed at Android and iPad tablet users because of the larger screens on those devices, but smartphone-based versions are expected in the future.

In June, Google for the first time released its Google Maps Engine API to developers so they can build consumer and business applications that incorporate the features and flexibility of Google Maps. With the Maps API, developers can now use Google's cloud infrastructure to add their data on top of a Google Map and share that custom mash-up with consumers, employees or other users. The API provides direct access to Maps Engine for reading and editing spatial data hosted in the cloud, according to Google.