The new Google Maps is here, and it could kill off the competition
30th May 2013 | 15:49
We take a look at the new Google Maps
Google showed off a new version of Google Maps at its annual IO conference earlier this month and is now offering the new system to a limited number of users as a preview.
TechRadar has gained access to the new Google Maps and has taken a brief trip around the world to look at the features it has to offer.
We're aware that this is not the final product and we're sure Google will be doing more work on the new version of Maps over the coming months, but here's what we think so far.
The first thing you'll notice when you fire up the new Google Maps is that everything looks a bit, well, Apple Maps.
Now before you start to question the reason to live as you fear Google is going the way of the Cupertino-based firm's mapping solution we're here to reassure you.
Cosmetically the search giant has given Maps a bit of a spring clean, but it's mapping nous still underlies the service to give you the quality you're familiar with.
One to the big design tweaks has been to the colour of the roads, with the blues and greens replaced with varying shades of orange, with the more minor routes finished in white or grey.
This gives the maps a much cleaner appearance, and comparing it to the old version of Google Maps it looks a lot less cluttered.
Not the (Google) Earth you're looking for
Satellite view has been replaced with "Earth" - which shows the clear tie-in with the firm's other planet viewing platform - and this icon is now located in the bottom left of the screen.
Give it a click and the map fades to the new view, with the zoom controls and compass located at the bottom of the screen, over in the right corner.
Oddly you can't zoom in as far on the Earth view as you can in Satellite view, meaning if you fancy you won't be able to count the number of chimney pots on your neighbours rooftops quite so easily.
Zoom all the way out and you'll get a lovely overview of planet earth which you can spin on its axis - which is all very nice.
Street View is still baked into the new Google Maps, although our little friend the pegman is nowhere to be seen on the new layout.
Google has done away with the golden figurine, and instead has delivered a more intuitive system.
Just click on any road on the map and a card will pop up below the search bar on the left of the screen with the address, the option to get directions to the point and a thumbnail of the Street View for that location which you can click to enter the mode.
Once in Street View things are pretty much the same, you can click along roads to move down them and zoom it at any point if you fancy checking out someone's front door.
Entering the third dimension
While Earth and Street View are nothing new, Google has implemented a new visual feature which it claims will let you "see the world".
In certain cities round the world (at the moment the preview is restricted to a handful of US cities) buildings have been modelled in 3D, allowing you to get a new perspective on the area you're viewing.
Now if this all sounds rather familiar, that's because it is. The feature is almost identical to Apple's "Flyover" function in its own mapping service. Is that a lawsuit we smell?
We spent some time flying around the Boston and New York skylines with this new feature and while it's quite fun, it is lacking the layer of polish to make it truly impressive.
We found the 3D buildings took a few seconds to fully render each time we moved around the map and while some buildings looked great, others appeared a bit cartoony and misshapen.
Google will no doubt look to tighten up this feature before it makes the new Google Maps publicly available, but for the time being it's a little hit and miss.
Google wants to make sure your Maps experience is tailored to you and this means you'll be able to search relevant restaurants, hotels and attractions around the world.
The new Maps service allows you to favourite and review places, and based on your ratings and stared locations it will then suggest other places it thinks you'll enjoy.
Obviously it will become more tailored to you the more you use it, plus it will pull in friend recommendations to help you choose.
You can search things such as restaurants easily. Typing "Italian restaurants" in the search bar will prompt Google Maps to display the corresponding results on the area you're currently viewing.
If you want to find places in an area which currently isn't on screen, just put a comma after the type of attraction you want and enter the location you wish to search in.
Once again the whole process isn't the speediest, but it it's functional and it's something which we reckon has a lot of potential.
Please turn left
Of course finding the perfect place to eat is no use if you don't know how to get there, but happily directions are on hand.
Whenever you search a particular location, or select a road or attraction on the map, a card will appear under the search bar and there is a "Directions" button you can select which will tell you how to get to your destination.
The layout has been altered in the new Google Maps, but all the same functionality is there, including the option of choosing driving, walking or public transport directions as well as viewing the traffic to make sure you don't get stuck in a jam.
Google has also produced a handy little YouTube video which walks you through the key new features.
The new Google Maps is looking promising, with some potentially handy features and a fresher design - although it's still a bit rough round the edges for now.
Given time though we're pretty sure Google will apply the correct amount of polish to make this version of Maps just as slick and efficient as previous iterations.
From this showing, Google Maps looks set to still be the best free mapping solution available on your PC and mobile, and the inclusion of 3D buildings and personalised results will only see it extend its advantage over the competition. Probably time you got a move on, Apple.