Google plans a makeover of Google Maps

Close on its acquisition of Waze, an Israel-based mapping company, Google is all set to launch a new ‘intelligent’ version of its Google Maps product.

The new product will focus on three things – an overall improvement in the quality and sophistication of the product, artificial intelligence and a more ‘social’ experience.

In the new Google Maps, to be rolled out in the coming days, the map will be dynamic. In other words, what you see on the map depends on what you are looking for.

For example, someone looking for a restaurant will only see restaurants (and of course, ways to get there), and not, for example, petrol pumps. Once you search for a definite item, like a super market, Google will immediately redraw the map to highlight only the super markets, making it easier for people to see all the possible candidates at one go.

Under the current system, a search for super markets will only result in the cropping up of red dots or bubbles and arrows that indicate where the super markets are located. To get more details, a user has to click on the arrow or the bubble. In other words, it’s rather cumbersome.

In the new Google Maps, that pain is gone, and you are presented with a new, clean map that has only super markets on them, clearly marked out with their names. No more red dots.

The second aspect – that of the ‘intelligent’ and ‘social’ map – is probably a reaction to emerging trends in the sector.

For example, on Facebook’s new ‘Graph Search’, users can search for a restaurant, and Facebook will immediately pull up a list according to the user’s location, and more importantly, according to how other users (particularly the user’s friends) have rated the place.

The new maps will also be social, and will incorporate friends’ suggestions, and reviews by general users, in the results. Moreover, it will be ‘intelligent’. For example, if you ‘star’ or like or always search for a particular type of restaurant – Chinese, for example – such items will be highlighted as well (along with an explanation of why Google thinks the item is more relevant for you.)

The other aspect of the new Google Maps product is the sophistication of the product. Streetviews and photographs are more integrated. Overall, the focus is more utilitarian than informative.

It will be easier to move from the normal view to the streetview mode so that confused travelers can get ‘down on the ground’ virtually to check out which road they should be taking, instead of taking a gamble based on a ‘grid view’.

Photos of landmarks and building will be easier to see on the new Maps application as well, and are better woven into the overall experience.