Google is rapidly iterating and consolidating its product line, sunsetting services and finally gluing disparate pieces of the puzzle together, with the latest makeover coming to the Maps product.
Google Maps is now far more integrated across product lines, bringing together elements like Flight Search, Google Earth, Google+, business listings and more to create what is effectively a meta to the world.
This isn’t entirely new, but Google is definitely improving upon the multi-modal abilities of the search engine. Likely egged on by the traction of multi-modal startups like Rome2Rio, the expansion of this ability is not only a better user experience but also allows for far more deep integration with paid links when users are able to create multi-modal trips using various forms of transportation.
Biking and public transit have been included for awhile now, but were never that strong except in the densest cities. It now includes trains and planes in the interface, alongside walking, biking and cars.
For example, a user could search out a restaurant – say the author’s Booty’s Street Food – and instantly see results for how much a visit would cost via Google Flight Search. This integration allows Google to insert itself into the travel planning process as an ultimate meta search engine – it’s like meta for the world.
More intuitive search further entrenches Google+
The update brings together other Google products with an integration that encourages businesses to get active on Google+ so their listings and ratings appear not only in Google search results but with Google Maps on smartphones.
This focus on the search bar means that users can do more generic searches, such as “coffee shops San Francisco” and get a map seeded with these specific businesses, in addition to a drop down sidebar that highlights names, ratings and an image for the top results.
Another push towards Google+ is the ability for searches to be filtered by top reviewers and within circles.
This means that the exploratory functionality of search has been enhanced, putting Google into Yelp’s territory as a search tool for places to eat and businesses to frequent. Rather than just using Google for a predetermined “point A to point B” search, activity exploration has been catalyzed into a robust part of the user experience and value proposition.
This iterated search also opens up a clear path to Google’s entrance into the tours and activities sector, as users can search “tours Miami” and potentially receive a bookable listing of available tours – complemented of course by a detailed fly-by of specific tour itineraries as an added visual to increase conversion.
These sorts of purchases can be acquired on Google Wallet and then be dropped into Google Glass, so that reminders of activities pop up when the user is in-destination.
Heavier business integration with new “info cards”
Google is continuing to parse available search information into its “cards” format, with both an eye towards making the most relevant information concisely available across platforms – especially via the small screen real estate on Glass.
In this iteration, this means that Google is making it even more valuable for businesses to participate in Google+ and encourage more reviews. If users are able to see these cards quickly, especially on mobile phones, they should be more inclined to visit those businesses. Lack of participation means loss of access to these users.
Info cards provide a quick way for users to get the “Look Inside” button, which then incentivizes more small businesses to take advantage of the year-old ability to pay a Google photographer to photograph interior of businesses.
This format also allows Google to increase the prominence of other content sources, like Zagat, which allows them to boost the return on that investment beyond simply showing public ratings of Google+ reviewers.
Updated interactivity within the map interface, including new 3D
One especially handy update is the ability to simply click anywhere on the map and get the address (assuming you click on a road, otherwise users see the exact coordinates of that spot). This means that users can get a more firm grasp on how the addresses play out when attempting to plan a particular journey. This also gives Google the opportunity to more fully integrate the ability to explore any place visually.
The coolest part of this is the new “3D” functionality, which facilitates a new way to explore the world via Google Maps.
The company has accumulated various types of media, from photo spheres to videos to photos to Inside Views, which were never accumulated in one place. This allows for a multi-media exploration of different areas, and mimics the Carousel interface for search rolled out last year.
This is where the 3D comes into play, as users can now tilt, zoom and rotate the perspective, allowing for more depth in the view than the flat, top-down perspective of Google Earth.
Within this interface, icons pop up for metro stations, parks and other points of interest. Hovering over the icon shows further information about that spot.
It’s fascinating to watch the world construct itself with each tilt shift, and while the resolution still leaves room for improvement, it’s a cool way to fly through cities and rural landscapes using the rotate, zoom and tilt functionality to unleash the inner Superman.
Responsive, cross-device design
The update is also geared toward cross-device usage. For those users who login to Google on their mobile devices and desktop, Maps will show previous searches.
Bringing back some functionality lost last year, users can also favorite specific locations to make them available on devices, and can also log work and home as a saved location to allow for more direct searches such as “Home to…,” thus meshing functionality for Glass.
Saving searches also means that Google can take a step into itineraries and full-trip integration. In the example above, a trip to New Orleans could be created on desktop by starring specific businesses, and then the user could open Google Maps once in New Orleans to see a list of the starred and saved businesses.
This is a more simple and less invasive “itinerary management solution” that doesn’t add extra features to a simple list of previously searched and saved destinations – and then offers the added bonus of directions to the establishment and click-to-call functionality in-built in the experience.
Conclusions: a meta to the world
This is a big step for Google Maps, as it looks to both establish its place at the center of much of the new wearables experience while also being the glue that brings together various Google products, such as Google Earth, Google Flight Search, Google+ and more.
The concept of being a “meta to the world” is quite a far-reaching one, which moves beyond search and places the map at the center of the company’s stated mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
This update also re-establishes Google Maps as a far superior competitor to any other more-than-mapping products out there that play well across devices, and solidifies “the map” as the most useful interface for any travel product.
Next up will be seeing how Google Glass unfolds out in the real world, and how that limited screen real estate informs the reduction of information to its most vital bits.