Google unveiled a brand new look for Google Maps on Wednesday. Redesigned from the ground up, the new Maps can take you from space all the way inside a building, and everywhere in between.
The new Google Maps will be available for the general public starting Thursday morning (you can sign up to request an invite to try it out, here). Along with other I/O attendees I got access to the updated version of Maps on Wednesday, and took the service on a test drive.
A Whole New Look
You can tell there’s something a little different about Google Maps from the moment you visit the page. The map itself is full screen, with a number of small thumbnails at the bottom.
Rather than separate search from the map, you can search using a small widget in the upper-left side of the screen. Your last three searches automatically show up (as long as you’re logged in), and like before, you can type the name of a specific location or generic search term (i.e. “spaghetti restaurants”) in the search box.
Results for your search are displayed as points of interest on the screen. For instance, you can see that there’s a spaghetti restaurant near the park you’re currently walking through, or by the theater at which you plan to see a late-night movie. The map also highlight restaurants reviewed by friends, as well as those that are highly rated, in general.
You can select a business either by clicking on its name in the search box, or on a pin on the map. When you click on a pin, related roads and destinations appear on the page, helping you plan your journey.
When you click on a business, Maps now brings up an info card right below the search box. The venue’s address is displayed at the top of the card, along with its hours of operation. To the right, you’ll find a navigation icon for directions, a star icon to save the location for later viewing, and the business’ website URL and phone number.
There’s also a Street-View photo icon, as well as the option to look up more images of a specific location. When available, Zagat information for a restaurant is also displayed below its basic contact info.
What’s more, Maps learns your preferences as you search for places, save venues and write reviews, ultimately making recommendations tailored specifically to your needs.
A Spectacular Vision
Images really shine in the Google Maps update. Clicking on the satellite-photo icon on the bottom of the map will bring up the Google Earth view of a particular area. You can opt to check out Street View for most areas, and for venues that support it, you can actually go inside some buildings.
At the bottom of the page for any given location, Google features a scrolling menu of images. There are single images, as well as a series of images that you can click through for a photo tour.
The images include those that Google has taken, public images uploaded to Google+ and Picasa, as well as Photo Spheres (a 360-degree photo typically of the inside of a building) taken by Android owners.
Photo tours, in particular, get pretty interesting because they’re user-generated, and are often of the same location. A photo tour of MIT, for example, pulls up several photos of the same building — each from different points in the year. It’s cool to see the same place through the eyes of different photographers and phones.
Maps offers directions for a variety of different transportation options — car, public transit, walking, biking and air — that are displayed both in the search box and on the map itself. The “best” route is shown on the map by default.
For public transportation, you can visually compare trips based on number of transfers, walking distance and total travel time — a useful feature for anyone who has to deal with public transportation on a daily basis, and wants to make sure they’re taking the quickest route possible.
Want to try out the new Google Maps? You can sign up to participate in Google’ Maps preview, here.
Mashable screenshots; images courtesy of Google Maps