Google Maps has a whole new look and several new features that are downright fun to explore. Thenew Google Maps was officially announced earlier this month May at Google I/O, the company annual conference for developers, and has been rolling out to users ever since.
If you see a prompt to try the new Google Maps, take it! This article highlights some of the new elements and features you really have to try out for yourself once you get access to the new Maps.
Some big disclaimers: Your operating system and browser need to meet a bunch of requirements for the features to work. First, the full new version of Google Maps only works on the Windows or Mac desktop browser for Google Chrome and Firefox. It does not work on mobile devices. You also need to have Mac OS X 10.8.3 or later; Windows Vista, 7, or 8; or the Chrome OS. You also need to have generally up-to-date video card hardware and drivers.
You can see a number of the new features in “Lite mode” with Safari 6 or later or Internet Explorer 10. Lite mode also works on Windows XP (but not in Firefox), and for earlier versions of the Mac OS. Google says that other browser and operating systems “may work, but are not officially supported.”
1. Google Earth, now seamlessly on the Web. The new Google Maps treats Google Earth like it’s part of the whole kit and caboodle, similar to how Maps has long treated the street view feature.
You can jump out to the Google Earth view by simply clicking a box in the lower left corner.
2. Flights integrated with directions. Google Flights, a flights-for-purchase search engine, is now knitted into Google Maps when you look up directions for longer journeys.
Say you pull up directions between Washington D.C. and Asheville, NC. You can find directions and estimated travel time for driving, as you could before, as well as public transit, walking, and bicycling when they exist for your route). And now there’s a fifth option: flights. Click the airplane icon, and you’ll see some estimated flight times and sample prices for flights a few weeks from the present time. You can then click through to Google Flights to adjust the options and actually find airline tickets to buy.
3. Photo tour. When Google knows of a landmark that many people have photographed (and posted publicly on Google), there might be a photo tour of that site. It’s not always available, but when it is, it appears along the bottom of the page with other photos with an icon of a “play” (triangle) button instead of a camera icon. Google Maps then stitches together some of the best photos it has of the landmark to show you how it looks from many angles, at different times of day, as shot by different people.
4. Photo sphere. Another feature you’ll see for frequently photographed sites is the photo sphere. This icon is hard to make out, but it resembles an overly oblong globe, and it too is positioned over a photograph on the bottom of the screen. Click it, and you’ll can then click and drag the cursor to rotate through a 360-degree shot of the location.
5. Dive inside a business. This last feature I want to highlight is little more than an animation, but it looks good and adds to the fresh feeling of the new Maps. The catch is: Your browser and OS have to meet a bunch of requirements for it to work (actually, that’s true of many of the new features in Maps). Nonetheless, search out a venue or business on Google Maps that has interior photos—you can tell it does from the small preview card that appears in the upper left side—and click on any interior image to be whisked inside.