In another expansion of its online services, Google Inc. Tuesday launched a mapping feature that combines local search results with maps and driving directions.
The Mountain View, Calif., company introduced Google Maps as an experimental service through its Google Labs site. While the service provides traditional mapping features such as the ability to zoom in and out and to retrieve driving directions, Google also has integrated local search results into maps.
“Weve become active in the local space, so we looked at different products and technologies to support that well,” said Marissa Mayer, Googles director of consumer Web products. “We wanted a really rich map client for the Web.”
The new service comes as Google also has expanded its image-search index and as it widens its beta test of its Gmail e-mail service.
Google Maps, which covers only the United States, resulted largely from Googles own technology development, but the company also partnered with companies including Navteq Corp. for some mapping data, Mayer said.
The mapping service provides multiple ways for users to conduct searches. From a general query box, users can enter keywords and location information, such as a city name or zip code.
Along with appearing alongside the map, the results are pinpointed on the map. For example, typing “sushi” and “New York” would return sushi restaurants in New York.
Driving directions can also be initiated from the search box by entering terms such as “San Francisco to Los Angeles” within brackets. To plot specific routes, Google provides a section for entering the starting and ending addresses.
Like other mapping services, Google Maps returns step-by-step driving directions and displays the route on a map. To zoom in on the starting and ending points, users can click the section to display a detailed view.
A third search tab focuses on local business listings, providing boxes for entering a business name or category and a location.
Google Maps follows an expansion last year of Googles local search service that combined maps with the Google Local search results. In October, Google bought Keyhole Corp., a 3-D mapping company. Keyhole is part of Googles broader interest in the mapping space, but its technology was not directly used in Google Maps, Mayer said.
In other Google news, the company this week announced an expansion of its index of searchable images on the Web. The index has grown to more than 1.1 billion worldwide images.
Google also has given image results more prominence, displaying them above general Web results when a search query appears to have relevant image results. For example, searches for “sunsets” or “mountains” will return a selection of thumbnail images labeled “Image Results” above the standard Web-link results, Google officials said.
Over the past few weeks, Google also has shown signs that it is ramping up its Gmail e-mail service. Gmail remains a beta service where new users can join only by being invited by other members.
Gmail users have begun noticing that their number of available invites has increased from a handful to 50.
A Google spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that is has expanded the number of invites it is providing many of its Gmail users but declined to say whether Google was close to making Gmail generally available.
“The new number of invites was recently added for many users, and we hope to continue growing our user base as the product evolves,” the spokesperson said.