The Google Maps AR update: What’s the big deal?

New Augmented Reality Google Maps feature

The Wall Street Journal recently published a story claiming that Google was about to release a new AR feature for Google Maps Navigation. The release was only going to be a limited roll-out to a select group of users, but the promise of AR-assisted navigation instructions has been exciting people since The WSJ first ran the story. Let’s take a look at why.

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Google Maps will show you navigation instructions on top of live images of the real world

Google first announced the plan to bring AR to Maps navigation back at its big I/O conference in May. The way the new AR will work is by using your phone’s camera to capture live images of the environment around you and then displaying the navigation prompts on top of the images. This means that rather than looking at generic blue dots on a map, you’ll be looking at a live image of the street in front of you and will see arrows and signs pointing you in the direction you need to go.

Since the Wall Street Journal story, Google has demoed the new features to a select number of industry insiders. First impressions are that the feature works well and is very helpful when it comes to orientation. Rather than having to spin on your heels trying to figure out which way Google Maps thinks you are facing, you can simply raise your phone up to eye level and the map will automatically change to AR mode.

AR navigation for Google Maps
Image via: YouTube

When in AR mode, Maps will show a mini-map in the bottom third of your phone’s screen and the live images your camera is capturing in the top two-thirds. It is in the top two-thirds where the AR magic happens as on top of the images of the street will be animated prompts telling you which way you need to go. Combined with the mini-map at the bottom of the screen, the whole package removes confusion from a common situation facing people in strange parts of town or new cities altogether.

Google has highlighted that the AR feature should only be used when you’re approaching junctions and turns. When you’re walking straight you should hold your phone down, so that map mode is enabled, and if you hold your phone up in AR mode for too long an alert will show, telling you to lower your phone. This will stop users from walking around while staring at their phones and potentially knocking into people and objects in their path.

Impressively, despite being in an early Alpha state, the responses to the new feature have been very positive. There is still some smoothing out to be done, with graphics and animations, but generally, the feature seems to be working well. The bad news, however, is that there is still no news about when Google Maps’ new AR feature will be available to everybody or even if it will be available outside the U.S. when it is released.

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