LOS ANGELES – Google Maps marked 15 years on the road Thursday with the rollout of new features for its popular mobile app that has helped move navigation into the digital age.
The technology giant is celebrating the occasion with a new look and product updates, Vice President of product Dane Glasgow wrote in a blog post.
Google has dominated the market for navigation apps in recent years, but the latest updates appear aimed at staying ahead of challengers including Apple, which recently revamped its own maps application.
The Google Maps “explore” tab offers reviews and other details about restaurants, shops, theaters and other venues, taking advantage of the location-sensing capabilities of smartphones.
A “commute” tab in the Maps application promises to deliver efficient routes to or from work, whether people are driving or using public transit.
Google boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users for its app, has mapped more than 220 countries and territories and offers live traffic updates in 171 countries.
The app has also been a target for disinformation. Google said it took down some 3 million fake business profiles entered by users in 2018 alone.
Last year, Google added a feature that predicts how crowded a bus, train or subway is likely to be. Transit tidbits have been enhanced to include whether buses or trains tend to be hot or cold, accommodations for people with disabilities and whether there is security on board.
“These useful bits of information come from past riders who’ve shared their experiences, and will appear alongside public transit routes when available,” Glasgow said.
Added transit insights will be rolled out from next month, with availability varying by region and between municipal transportation agencies.
A new “updates” tab in the app will spotlight “must-see” spots that are getting attention, and will let users chat with businesses to get answers to questions.
“We’re also updating our look with a new Google Maps icon that reflects the evolution we’ve made mapping the world,” Glasgow said.
Once solid-red “pins” pointing out map locations are now made up of the four colors used in other Google logos. A playful “party-themed car icon” will be make an appearance soon, replacing the blue dot that users now see when they are navigating.
Apple recently finished rolling out its own overhauled map app in the U.S. in a challenge to Google’s smartphone navigation software.
Apple spent years rebuilding the application, its cars traveling millions of miles to map roads, after a version launched in 2012 was so problematic it prompted a rare public apology from chief executive Tim Cook.
Apple Maps has some features similar to those in Google Maps, such as pictures of locations taken at street level and artificial intelligence to check the status of flight reservations noted from email folders or on calendars.