There are few services on the internet today more ubiquitous than Google Maps. Originally designed to be downloaded by users as a desktop application, it quickly became a web-based service once the company that gave birth to it was acquired by Google in 2004. By 2005, the user-friendly mapping solution was a household name. Six years later, developers are still discovering new ways to leverage the venerable mapping service to produce more information and expand its functionality, making an already awesome free service even better. To show you what we’re talking about, we’ve put together a list of our ten favorite tips and uses for Google Maps. Some come from Google, others from third-party developers. All of them are awesome.
A German court last month declared street-level photography by Street View's car-mounted cameras to be legal when it dismissed a lawsuit alleging personal and property rights violations on the part of Google's Street View service. Despite the legal victory, and contrary to what most people might have expected, the company has decided against returning to the streets of Germany with the camera-toting vehicles it uses to collect street imagery for its popular Google Maps and Google Earth services.
Google has dropped the newest update to Google Maps into the Android Market today. This update contains some interesting new features, but as usual, not all phones will be feeling the love. The most obvious change is that instead of downloading rasterized tile images, Google Maps now uses vector graphics. The result is s much smoother zooming experience, and faster filling in of detail after zooming. This bit is available on any device running Android 1.6 and higher.
The new update is also making better use of multitouch. Users can tilt their view by swiping down with two fingers. Zooming in to street level also reveals a new feature. 3D skylines are available in over 100 cities. These are solid outlines, not actual images, but it is still very impressive. The last feature is potentially huge for the platform. Offline caching of map data will allow users to see areas of the map they often use without a data connection. This will be applied to Google Navigation to do offline rerouting and directions, but that specific part is being rolled out over the coming weeks. All this is only available on Android 2.0+.
It is also worth noting that some of the multitouch gestures are not fully supported by some fairly new devices. This includes the Nexus One, LG Ally, SE X10, and HTC Desire. Thank flaky touch sensors for that one. Have you tried the new Maps app? Let us know how you like it.
Google has added a new view option to the online Google Maps service. When viewing select cities in satellite mode, you can now see things from a 45 degree angle. When zooming into an area in satellite mode, the view will automatically switch to the new viewing angle. It can be toggled off by clicking the satellite mode button. This is similar to a feature Microsoft's Bing Maps has been using for some time.
This is more useful than the standard top down view in a number of situations. If you need to see what a particular area looks like, or want to check out some landmarks, this is much more detailed. Users can pan around to see objects from different angles with the compass icon.
Google was testing this feature in Google Labs for a few months, but now it is integrated into the Google Maps experience everyone sees. The imagery isn't really enabled in enough areas for it to be of use to most people, but Google has plans to expand it.
Unlike its surreptitious malicious-code-on-a-Street-View-car method of collecting Wi-Fi data, Google has an unintrusive way of accomplishing the task using mobile applications. Google's database of Wi-Fi hot spots is most likely to swell every time a user tracks his mobile phone's location using Wi-Fi triangulation or uses geolocation-enabled web services on a laptop.
This method is unlikely to ruffle any feathers as no payload data is collected. According to Steve Lee, a group product manager at Google, all Wi-Fi data is anonymous and users can prevent the "anonymous location data" from being sent to Google.
Eighteen online map providers have won the nod from China's State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM), and are now officially authorized to ply their trade in the world's most populous country (and internet market) – a new regulation requires that all surveying and mapping services obtain official sanction by the end of this year. According to the China Daily, all the mapping services on the list are domestically owned, even though foreign companies were among about 30 companies that have applied for a license.
"According to China's Surveying and Mapping Law, foreign firms are not allowed to provide surveying and mapping services. Their activities in China must be under joint ventures or in partnership with domestic firms," the SBSM said.
However, all is not lost for the foreign companies as the SSBM is still considering applications from those eligible to apply under Chinese law. A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google has already applied for a license for its Google Maps service. But Google China did not return the China Daily's request for a comment.
Unlike its search operations, which it shifted to Hong Kong in March, Google's mapping service continues to be operated from mainland China. Even Baidu has yet to get the nod for its own mapping service.
Late model Ford drivers with Sync-equipped automobiles will soon be able to download directions to their cars and plot out their routes. Announced earlier this week, Ford's Sync Traffic, Directions, and Information (TDI) is a free cloud-based architecture that lets drivers access voice-activated services through their mobile phones.
"Printing paper directions from a Web site is a relic in our digital age," Doug VanDagens, director of Ford Connected Services Solutions Organization, said in a statement. "With Send to Sync, you can map a destination at home, at work--wherever you have connectivity--and when you get to your car, it already knows where you want to go."
As Ford explains it, the app uses a customer's mobile phone voice plan and their vehicle's integrated GPS receiver to deliver location-based services, like driving directions or business services, and can also provide on-demand info, like horoscopes, news, movie listings, stock quotes, and more. And because it's all cloud-based, there aren't any updates to worry about.
The Google Maps 'Send to Sync' capability will launch later this month, Ford said, adding that it will be the only automaker offering this capability without required a paid subscription.
Google has enabled Google Maps previews within Gmail and Buzz. Once the feature is enabled by the user, Gmail automatically generates previews of places mentioned in an e-mail. The feature can be turned on from the Google Labs tab under Gmail settings.
Though previews for locations anywhere in the world are supported when triggered by a Google Maps URL contained in the e-mail, they are restricted to the US when only the address and not the URL is mentioned. But support for addresses in other parts of the world can't be far off as Google is working on it.
As for Buzz, pasting a Google Maps link in the post box will “automatically fetch an image preview of that location that you can associate with your post.”
Google Maps is great—it’s got tons of convenient, frequently updated information about pretty much everywhere in the world. There’s just one problem: It’s stuck on the internet. Or at least it was, because now, with Google Map Buddy, you can print Google Maps out at any size, whether you want to put together your own old-fashioned roadmap or make a giant geographical mural for you wall.
In addition, you can use Google Map Buddy to create large, continuous digital images from Google Maps, which make excellent desktop wallpapers. We'll show you how to do both in our Google Map Buddy how-to.
Let’s just assume that you prefer not to trust the big G with your data. Where are you supposed to go for your online mapping needs? As it turns out, Bing Maps is a perfectly acceptable alternative. With the most recent update, it’s gotten potentially even more useful thanks to the addition of about 6.7 million square kilometers of aerial imagery.
We’ve always had a fondness for Bing’s visual style, which is frankly more polished than Google Maps. It is a bit slower than Google, but that’s just a small tradeoff. The aerial and bird’s eye views are some of the coolest features, and we expect they’ve been helped by the addition of all that image data. The vast majority of the new data is for the aerial view (a top down angle). There’s much less for the bird’s eye view (an oblique angle). It’s good to see Microsoft continuing to invest in their Bing Maps, but is anyone really using it over Google? If you prefer Bing Maps, let us know why in the comments.