Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Evolution of Google Maps

I can't remember the first time I used Google Maps. I think for sure, it was long before I got my first Android phone. I started out with basic tasks like getting directions to a new destination. I remember using Google Maps to drive from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City when I was making the move from there to here. Of course, the route is pretty simple once I get on the 15, but I didn't know the town at all. So once I got on a local freeway, I would exit the freeway to use Google Maps to zero in on my new home in Utah.

I also used Google Maps to check on traffic conditions. This is especially useful in the City of Lost Angels. I often used Google Maps to check on the 405, the 55, the 5 and the 73. Back then, I had to plan my life around traffic. Not so here in Salt Lake City. Yes, we have rush hour traffic, but somehow, I've managed to avoid all of that with short commutes and commutes against the traffic.

Then I went for a rather long pause without using Maps much at all. I found few good jobs to do and got busy. Go to work, visit with some friends in locations I know, do my shopping and get home. My trips were usually without traffic jams to think or worry about. It's a rare day that I have to sit in stop and go traffic. Even when we're getting buried in snow, I don't usually find myself in line behind miles of cars. But I digress.

In recent weeks, I found myself setting appointments and meeting them with Google Calendar and Maps. For most of my time with Google Maps, I paid no mind to the possibility of integration with other apps. Then a few days ago, I entered the address to a destination for an appointment and thought nothing of it.

When I got in my car and opened the calendar to see the details of my appointment, I noticed a button next to the address I had put on the event. I tapped the button to find that Google Maps opened to the destination with a nice little icon offering directions to there. That seems like such a little thing, but that has changed my entire perspective about Google Maps. Now, I can create a new event, enter a street address and zip code and be confident that Google Maps will show me the way there.

In the old days, I used to use a Thomas Map book to get around town to new locations I was not familiar with. I would look up the street address in the index to find the coordinates. The coordinates were a page number and a row and column location where I could squint at tiny print to find my destination. Once I had a fix on the destination, I would trace my way back to my starting location on my route and memorize the route as best I could. If I got lost, I'd pull over, turn on the dome light if at night and verify my location against the map and plan my route again from there.

That exercise has been replaced by Google Navigation. A year or two ago I noticed a little blue triangle in the Google Maps interface. I tapped that to find a voice guided navigation system. It's very simple to use. I just plug the phone into my stereo and play back the directions through my car audio system and just follow the directions.

The voice seems to be from the robot maid in the Jetsons, but otherwise, it's functional and articulate enough for me to understand what it's saying. As I drive, the voice gives me advance notice of turns that I need to make and when to make the turns. I've found this to be a very reliable system of navigation around city streets.

For fun, I've changed course on the navigation system and it quietly recalculates the route for me. Even if I take a wrong turn, Google Maps will recalculate the route and steer me in the right direction. Google Maps is a wonder of technology for me, and when it's integrated with Gmail and the calendar, it is a powerful assistant to daily living.

Gmail integration with Google Maps works well in most cases. For example, I can take an email with an address, tap the address and it will open up Google Maps to that address. Even from websites in the built-in browser for my phone, I can tap an address to bring up a map for it.

I've now got a nice little workflow for planning trips. I create a calendar item, input the address and then synchronize my phone. In the car, I can open the appointment, tap the location and get directions by voice as I drive. I never have to look at the map after reviewing the route on my computer before leaving the house.

How Google makes money off that I'm not really sure, but I'm OK with the trade-off in service for my travel itinerary. For now, I will just enjoy the wonder of seeing this system calculate my route when I make a wrong turn.
Post a Comment