Hands-on with an Alpha build of Google Maps’ Augmented Reality mode

I think most of us have had this experience, especially when you’re in a big city: you step off of public transit, take a peek at Google Maps to figure out which way you’re supposed to go… and then somehow proceed to walk two blocks in the wrong direction. Maybe the little blue dot wasn’t […]

I think most of us have had this experience, especially when you’re in a big city: you step off of public transit, take a peek at Google Maps to figure out which way you’re supposed to go… and then somehow proceed to walk two blocks in the wrong direction.

Maybe the little blue dot wasn’t actually in the right place yet. Maybe your phone’s compass was bugging out and facing the wrong way because you’re surrounded by 30-story buildings full of metal and other things that compasses hate.

Google Maps’ work-in-progress augmented reality mode wants to end that scenario, drawing arrows and signage onto your camera’s view of the real world to make extra, super sure you’re heading the right way. It compares that camera view with its massive collection of Street View imagery to try to figure out exactly where you’re standing and which way you’re facing, even when your GPS and/or compass might be a little off. It’s currently in alpha testing, and I spent some hands-on time with it this morning.

A little glimpse of what it looks like in action:

Google first announced AR walking directions about nine months ago at its I/O conference, but has been pretty quiet about it since. Much of that time has been spent figuring out the subtleties of the user interface. If they drew a specific route on the ground, early users tried to stand directly on top of the line when walking, even if it wasn’t necessary or safe. When they tried to use particle effects floating in the air to represent paths and curves (pictured below in any early prototype) a Google UX designer tells us one user asked why they were ‘following floating trash’.

The Maps team also learned that no one wants to hold their phone up very long. The whole experience has to be pretty quick, and is designed to be used in short bursts — in fact, if you hold up the camera for too long, the app will tell you to stop.

Firing up AR mode feels like starting up any other Google Maps trip. Pop in your destination, hit the walking directions button… but instead of “Start”, you tap the new “Start AR” button.

A view from your camera appears on screen, and the app asks you to point the camera at buildings across the street. As you do so, a bunch of dots will pop up as it recognizes building features and landmarks that might help it pinpoint your location. Pretty quickly — a few seconds, in our handful of tests — the dots fade away, and a set of arrows and markers appear to guide your way. A small cut-out view at the bottom shows your current location on the map, which does a pretty good job of making the transition from camera mode to map mode a bit less jarring.

When you drop the phone to a more natural position – closer to parallel with the ground, like you might hold it if you’re reading texts while you walk — Google Maps will shift back into the standard 2D map view. Hold up the phone like you’re taking a portrait photo of what’s in front of you, and AR mode comes back in.

In our short test (about 45 minutes in all), the feature worked as promised. It definitely works better in some scenarios than others; if you’re closer to the street and thus have a better view of the buildings across the way, it works out its location pretty quick and with ridiculous accuracy. If you’re in the middle of a plaza, it might take a few seconds longer.

Google’s decision to build this as something that you’re only meant to use for a few seconds is the right one. Between making yourself an easy target for would-be phone thieves or walking into light poles, no one wants to wander a city primarily through the camera lens of their phone. I can see myself using it on the first step or two of a trek to make sure I’m getting off on the right foot, at which point an occasional glance at the standard map will hopefully suffice. It’s about helping you feel more certain, not about holding your hand the entire way.

Google did a deeper dive on how the tech works here, but in short: it’s taking the view from your camera and sending a compressed version up to the cloud, where it’s analyzed for unique visual features. Google has a good idea of where you are from your phones’ GPS signal, so it can compare the Street View data it has for the surrounding area to look for things it thinks should be nearby — certain building features, statues, or permanent structures — and work backwards to your more precise location and direction. There’s also a bunch of machine learning voodoo going on here to ignore things that might be prominent but not necessarily permanent (like trees, large parked vehicles, and construction.)

The feature is currently rolling out to “Local Guides” for feedback. Local Guides are an opt-in group of users who contribute reviews, photos, and places while helping Google fact check location information in exchange for early access to features like this.

Alas, Google told us repeatedly that it has no idea when it’ll roll out beyond that group.

MPScale adds a functional distance scale to Apple’s Maps app

Apple’s Maps app has evolved a lot over the years, but it still lacks one of the most primitive features: a functional distance scale. This jailbreak tweak fixes that.

Apple's Maps app has evolved a lot over the years, but it still lacks one of the most primitive features: a functional distance scale. This jailbreak tweak fixes that.

Apple has banned Google from running internal iOS apps after certificate misuse

Apple has blocked Google from distributing its internal-only iOS apps on its corporate network after a TechCrunch investigation found the search giant abusing the certificates. “We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” said a Google spokesperson. Apple did not […]

Apple has blocked Google from distributing its internal-only iOS apps on its corporate network after a TechCrunch investigation found the search giant abusing the certificates.

“We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” said a Google spokesperson.

Apple did not immediately comment on the ban.

TechCrunch reported Wednesday that Google was using an Apple-issued certificate that allows the company to create and build internal apps for its staff for one of its consumer-facing apps, called Screenwise Meter, in violation of Apple’s rules. The app was designed to collect an extensive amount of data from a person’s iPhone for research, but using the special certificate allowed the company to allow users to bypass Apple’s App Store. Google later apologized, and said that the app “should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake.”

It followed in the footsteps of Facebook, which we first reported earlier this week that it was also abusing its internal-only certificates for a research app — which the company used to pay teenagers to vacuum up their phone’s web activity.

It’s not immediately clear how damaging this will be for Google. Not only does it mean its Screenwise Meter app won’t work for iPhones, but any other app that the search giant relies on the certificate for.

According to The Verge, many internal Google apps have also stopped working. That includes early and pre-release versions of its consumer-facing apps, like Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail and other employee-only apps, such as its transportation apps, are no longer functioning.

Facebook faced a similar rebuke after Apple stepped in. We reported that after Apple’s ban was handed down, many of Facebook’s pre-launch, test-only versions of Facebook and Instagram stopped working, as well as other employee-only apps for coordinating office collaboration, travel, and seeing the company’s daily lunch schedule. Neither ban affects apps that consumers download from Apple’s App Store.

Facebook has over 35,000 employees. Google has more than 94,000 employees.

It’s not known when — or if — Apple will issue Google or Facebook with new internal-only certificates, but they will almost certainly have newer, stricter rules attached.

Google is rolling out Assistant in Maps for iOS

Google’s voice-activated Assistant feature can now help you navigate in Google Maps for iPhone and iPad, play music, reply to messages and more.

Google announced today at the CES 2019 show that it has begun rolling out its popular voice-activated Assistant feature to the mobile Maps app for iOS and Android.... Read the rest of this post here


"Google is rolling out Assistant in Maps for iOS" is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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Night Maps brings a universal Dark Mode experience to various mapview-supported apps

Are you ready for a universal Dark Mode experience for the mapview of almost any map or navigation app? If so, then check out a new jailbreak tweak called Night Maps.

Dark Mode-centric jailbreak tweaks have become quite the hot commodity as of late, but many lack support for the different types of mapviews used in the bevy of map and navigation apps available for download in the App Store.

Enter Night Maps, a new jailbreak tweak by iOS developer FoxFortMobile that fills this particular niche. As shown above, Night Maps brings a universal Dark Mode experience to the mapview of almost any map or navigation app you might use on your iPhone or iPad.... Read the rest of this post here


"Night Maps brings a universal Dark Mode experience to various mapview-supported apps" is an article by iDownloadBlog.com.
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Google Maps now shows nearby Lime bikes and scooters in 13 cities

Google has partnered with Lime to show nearby bikes and scooters in 13 cities worldwide. If there’s a Lime vehicle available nearby, Google Maps will show you how long it will take to get to the vehicle, the estimated price of the ride and total journey time. Similar to the Uber integration in Google Maps, […]

Google has partnered with Lime to show nearby bikes and scooters in 13 cities worldwide. If there’s a Lime vehicle available nearby, Google Maps will show you how long it will take to get to the vehicle, the estimated price of the ride and total journey time.

Similar to the Uber integration in Google Maps, tapping on Lime will open the up the Lime app. If you don’t have it installed, you’ll be directed to the Apple App or Google Play store.

This is now live in Auckland, New Zeland, Austin, Texas, Baltimore, Md., Brisbane, Australia, Dallas, Texas, Indianapolis, Ind., Los Angeles, Calif., San Diego, Calif., Oakland, Calif., San Jose, Calif., San Antonio, Texas, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Seattle, Wash. Google says additional cities are in the works.

In September, Lime hit 11.5 million bike and scooter rides after just 14 months in operation. Lime has raised $467 million in funding to date, with its most recent round coming in at $335 million. The round, led by GV, included participation from Uber.

Google Maps’ new personalized suggestions come to iOS

A more personalized version of Google Maps is now arriving on iOS. At Google’s I/O developer conference earlier this year, the company introduced a series of new features designed to help Google Maps users learn what’s happening around them, track area businesses to receive updates about their events and promotions, and receive personalized suggestions of […]

A more personalized version of Google Maps is now arriving on iOS. At Google’s I/O developer conference earlier this year, the company introduced a series of new features designed to help Google Maps users learn what’s happening around them, track area businesses to receive updates about their events and promotions, and receive personalized suggestions of places to visit, dine, and more. The latter now appear in a “For You” tab in the revamped Google Maps app, which first arrived on Android this June.

Today, the feature is rolling out more broadly.

According to Google, the “For You” tab is now making its way to over 130  more countries on Android and is launching on iOS across 40+ countries.

When switching over to this tab, you’ll see any number of suggestions – from newly opened places to visit or restaurants to try to new pop-ups – to new menu items at favorite restaurants and restaurant suggestions Google thinks you’d like to try. It bases these on your personal tastes and preferences it’s inferred from your use of the Google Maps app, including what sort of businesses you search and follow.

The “For You” tab can also help you with travel planning, by making suggestions of places before you depart, Google notes.

To get better recommendations, you’ll want to follow local businesses you like in Google Maps, or even neighborhoods you frequent, to personalize your suggestions further.

The feature is part of a larger overhaul of Google Maps that’s aiming to challenge Facebook as the place where businesses offer updates of their goings-on, news about their sales, events, and other information they want to share with customers – as well as target potential new customers through ads and being featured in users’ recommendations.

In October, Google Maps launched the “Follow” button for tracking businesses, and last month rolled out a new “Google My Business” app for business owners, so they could more easily create and publish content to their business profile on Google.

With these products in place – content publication tools and the ability for users to follow that content – Google is now ready to turn those signals into personalized suggestions. You’ll find it at the bottom of the Google Maps app, where it will show you potential “matches” (and the percentage for the match), plus news about recent openings, trending spots, and other suggestions.

The company says the “For You” tab is rolling out starting today across the new markets and on iOS.

Google has acquired one of India’s most popular train tracking apps

Google is increasing its efforts in India after it snapped up the team behind popular transportation app ‘Where is my Train.’ The app claims 10 million registered users and, as the name suggests, it helps commuters track arrivals and departures as well as buying seats. That’s no small job given that India is estimated to operate […]

Google is increasing its efforts in India after it snapped up the team behind popular transportation app ‘Where is my Train.’

The app claims 10 million registered users and, as the name suggests, it helps commuters track arrivals and departures as well as buying seats. That’s no small job given that India is estimated to operate some 14,000 trains on a daily basis across the country. The app is for Android, it works offline or with poor connectivity and supports eight languages. It is rivaled by VC-backed companies like RailYatri and iXigo.

There’s no official price for the deal, although India’s Economic Times is reporting that it is in the region of $30-$40 million. The site reported on Google’s interest back in August, when it wrote that other suitors included Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. A Google spokesperson confirmed the deal to TechCrunch, but declined to provide a price.

Sigmoid Labs, the company that develops the train app, was founded by four former TiVo executives in 2013. Economic Times reports that it has around 10 staff. It is unclear how much money it has raised to date.

The company told customers news of the acquisition on its website earlier today.

“We can think of no better place to help us achieve our mission, and we’re excited to join Google to help bring technology and information into more people’s hands,” its founders wrote.

Google said that the Where is my Train team would “continue to build on the current offering,” so it seems that the app won’t be shuttered, immediately at least.

The service’s significant userbase would suggest that Google might look to develop and expand its scope to perhaps touch on other areas. Ride-hailing apps, for example, have moved into adjacent spaces including entertainment, payments and food delivery to take advantage of their position as daily apps.

That’s all conjecture at this point. But it also stands to reason that Google could fold it into other apps, including Google Maps, although that certainly isn’t the plan at this point.

Screenshots of Where is my Train Android app from the Google Play Store

The deal falls under Google’s ‘Next Billion User’ division which is developing products and services to help increase internet adoption in emerging markets. To date that has focused strongly on India where Google has developed data-friendly ‘lite’ versions of popular apps like YouTube, and initiatives like public WiFi for India’s rail network that’s used by over eight million people.

That scope has also covered services, with Google looking at apps that provide information and utility to Indian consumers. Google launched an on-demand app and a mobile payment service last year, and this year it released a neighborhood Q&A service. The Where is my Train deal certainly fits that strategy and you’d imagine it’ll become a core part of Google’s consumer-facing product line in India.

The deal is also one of the most significant to date for a U.S-based tech firm in India. Facebook, Twitter, Google and even Yahoo have made acquisitions to build teams or acquire talent but Where is my Train seems significantly more strategic as a product.

The 8 Best Free Offline GPS Apps for Android to Navigate Anywhere

We already know there are lots of great navigation apps for when you have a data connection. But what if you need your GPS location when you’re offline? Offline GPS is a vital feature for any maps app. You’ll use it if you’re exploring a foreign city and have data roaming turned off, or if you drive into a dead zone during a road trip. Here are the best free offline GPS apps for Android. 1. Google Maps Google Maps offers a way to download and save regional maps for offline use—you just need to do a little preparation before…

Read the full article: The 8 Best Free Offline GPS Apps for Android to Navigate Anywhere

We already know there are lots of great navigation apps for when you have a data connection. But what if you need your GPS location when you’re offline?

Offline GPS is a vital feature for any maps app. You’ll use it if you’re exploring a foreign city and have data roaming turned off, or if you drive into a dead zone during a road trip.

Here are the best free offline GPS apps for Android.

1. Google Maps

Google Maps offers a way to download and save regional maps for offline use—you just need to do a little preparation before you leave home.

To download a map, tap on the More menu (three horizontal lines) in the upper-left corner, then select Offline Maps. Google will recommend some maps for you to download based on your home and frequent locations. You can also tap Select Your Own Map to download another area.

The maximum size of the map you can download is 2GB, which equates to roughly 200 x 120 miles. The app automatically deletes any downloaded maps after 30 days without an internet connection.

For more advice, check out essential Google Maps tips for planning a trip.

Download: Google Maps (Free)

2. Sygic GPS Navigation and Offline Maps

Sygic is the most-installed offline GPS app in the Google Play Store. The company has an agreement with TomTom, allowing it to provide offline maps for every country in the world.

Other noteworthy features include free map updates, voice-guided GPS navigation, and pedestrian GPS navigation for when you’re on foot.

The app can even help save you money. If you have an internet connection, it will automatically alert you about the cheapest nearby parking lots and gas stations, as well as providing information about upcoming speed cameras.

Sygic offers both a free and a paid version. You can try the paid version for seven days when you first download the app.

Download: Sygic GPS Navigation and Offline Maps (Free, subscription available)

3. OsmAnd

OsmAnd is another popular map app that works offline. There’s also an online mode for the times when you have a reliable data connection.

The GPS part of the app has a number of key features. They include voice guidance, lane guidance, live estimated times of arrival, a day/night screen mode, on-the-fly driving routes for when you take a wrong turn, and specialist cycling routes.

In some countries, the offline map even boasts features such as opening times and accepted payment methods of stores. Lastly, this is an app skiers should have. There’s a paid plugin which shows route maps for many of the world’s most popular resorts.

Download: OsmAnd (Free, premium version available)

4. MAPS.ME

MAPS.ME is a complete free GPS app. If you need offline navigation, it’s definitely worth checking out.

In offline mode, you can enjoy a full-featured search function, voice navigation, re-routing calculation, and public transportation. You will also see restaurants, ATMs, and places of interest. If you’re online, you can share your location with friends, add bookmarks, and even make hotel bookings without leaving the app. This makes it a great Android app for traveling.

The maps are kept up-to-date by OpenStreetMap and are entirely open source.

The developers behind the app have also made a promise. All maps and features will be free forever; there are no plans to introduce a pricing structure. MAPS.ME is ad-supported and you can pay to remove them.

Download: MAPS.ME (Free)

5. MapFactor GPS Navigation Maps

MapFactor is another great free GPS app for Android.

When you fire up the app for the first time, it will prompt you to download maps for offline usage. That’s because there is no online map function here. Instead, the app offers more than 200 standalone individual maps to choose from, including 56 in Europe and 53 in the Americas.

The maps are organized by country, but densely populated areas have sub-regions available. You can also find maps for speed cameras in certain areas. Each map pulls its data from OpenStreetMap.

Download: MapFactor (Free, premium version available)

6. HERE WeGo

HERE WeGo is another app that specializes in offline GPS navigation. It offers offline maps for more than 100 countries.

The offline maps include directions, public transportation ticket prices, car-sharing prices, and train and bus timetables.

When you enter your route, the app will compare car, bike, pedestrian, taxi, and public transportation routes in order to find the fastest and most cost-effective way for you to make your journey. It’ll even let you know whether your trip is predominantly uphill or downhill.

You can access public transportation information for more than 1,300 cities around the world, including most of North America and Europe.

Like MAPS.ME, the HERE WeGo app is ad-supported.

Download: HERE WeGo (Free)

7. CoPilot GPS

In-car navigation is the primary focus of CoPilot GPS. People on foot should avoid it.

The app excels in route planning. For every journey, it gives you three separate options. And for each of the three routes, you can add up to 52 individual waypoints.

CoPilot also has thousands of offline locations such as hotels, restaurants, ATMs, and places of interest. You can use the search feature to find them even if you’re in offline mode.

You can enjoy a free seven-day trial of the premium features. These include 3D maps and an audio navigation assistant. Once the trial expires, the app limits you to 2D offline maps and visual turn-by-turn directions.

Download: CoPilot GPS (Free, subscription available)

8. Genius Maps

The free version of Genius Maps lets you download offline maps and provides information about local places of interest.

If you want voice guidance, automatic re-routing, speed limit alerts, and live traffic reports, you will need to upgrade to the pro version. You can do so from within the app.

Genius Maps has offline maps available for most of the world. Europe and North America enjoy 100 percent coverage.

Download: Genius Maps (Free)

GPS Is Great, but Watch Your Battery!

We hope these GPS apps help you get where you’re going, even without data. But we’ll leave you with a quick word of warning: continuously running GPS apps in the background will quickly drain your battery.

If you’re walking, try to leave your GPS turned off as much as possible. If you’re driving, you should consider investing in a car charger, which is an essential smartphone accessory to keep in your car.

We’ve covered how to save your battery life on Android if you’d like to learn more.

Read the full article: The 8 Best Free Offline GPS Apps for Android to Navigate Anywhere

You Can Now Add Hashtags to Google Maps

Google Maps is rapidly evolving into a bigger and (potentially) better platform than it has been previously. And the latest feature Google is adding to the Maps mix is hashtags. Yes, Google Maps will soon be awash with hashtags, for better or worse. Hashtags Finally Arrive on Google Maps You can now add hashtags to your reviews of businesses. So, for example, if you’re reviewing a restaurant you can add #datenight or #familyfriendly. You could also add #wheelchairaccessible to help make Google Maps more wheelchair friendly. Google Maps’ Local Guides are already actively using hashtags in their reviews. Google suggests…

Read the full article: You Can Now Add Hashtags to Google Maps

Google Maps is rapidly evolving into a bigger and (potentially) better platform than it has been previously. And the latest feature Google is adding to the Maps mix is hashtags. Yes, Google Maps will soon be awash with hashtags, for better or worse.

Hashtags Finally Arrive on Google Maps

You can now add hashtags to your reviews of businesses. So, for example, if you’re reviewing a restaurant you can add #datenight or #familyfriendly. You could also add #wheelchairaccessible to help make Google Maps more wheelchair friendly.

Google Maps’ Local Guides are already actively using hashtags in their reviews. Google suggests people use up to five hashtags per review, and place them at the end of the review rather than make a review harder to read by placing them throughout.

Google rolled out hashtags to Maps quietly. According to TechCrunch, the ability to add or view hashtags is only currently available on Android devices. There’s no word yet when it will be added to the iOS version of Google Maps.

Hashtags provide an at-a-glance shorthand for what to expect from a business. So this should make it easier to search for the perfect restaurant, bar, club, attraction, etc. However, this is reliant on people using hashtags responsibly. Which isn’t guaranteed.

Google Maps Is Becoming a Social Network

In recent months Google has added a slew of new features to Maps. To the point which Google Maps is starting to feel a little bloated. The days when Google Maps was primarily used to help us all get from A-to-B are over, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Many of Google’s recent changes to Maps makes it feel more like a social network. This includes Google Maps helping you plan group events, Google Maps helping you explore your local area, and Google Maps letting you message businesses.

Image Credit: Mosieur J./Flickr

Read the full article: You Can Now Add Hashtags to Google Maps