Wednesday, 17 July 2013

What's going on at Google then?

Google maps is changing a lot. Normally I try to post on positive things, but to be frank I cant find many!
So lets have a look and see if we can work out what's going on...

Firstly, they release the Beta of the new maps and it looks great at first glance. Really clean and uncluttered. The main focus is on the map and everything is else is in small expandable windows.


Google Map Beta

All good so far. Maybe this is harking back to Google's routes and a clean uncluttered page.
Other good things are the explorer bar on the bottom which opens up when you select the little square thingy at the bottom left. In there are photos. When you hover them, an line pointing to where it was taken appears. Some of them are photo tours which very cleverly and seamlessly runs through the photos like a video. Difficult to describe, give it a go and you'll know what I mean.

But dig a little deeper and things start to go a bit wobbly. First thing I did was something I do all the time in GMaps, and that is a travel map. You can only do point to point. No ability to add a destination. That's no good at all! But, on the flip side its quite good at showing other modes of transport linking to the relevant public transport sites. The multi modal travel is there as promised  but we have no control over this. You can select your times based on the timetables of the travel companies. So all well and good, but if I cant add stops then it's a non starter for me now.

While I'm talking about it, there is no right click at all. Ok, it's simpler, but do we need it that simple?

The next thing is the 'show traffic' option. Now I always had a slight problem in that you could select the time and day to show the traffic, but on a 4 or 5 hour journey we need the traffic for the whole journey as I get there. If I set off at 9am from Leeds say, I need the traffic there at that time, but It's no good giving me traffic at 9am in London if I wont get there until 1pm. But that aside  the option has been removed totally. So it will only give traffic for now. How many of you use GMaps in that way? 

OK, so a little good, but quite a lot bad and a show stopper for me at this point. But, I accept not everyone. 

Next, lets have a look at the navigation. We have lost some of the control. When you put the map into earth mode, which is a combination of Google earth and imagery, you can only view at 90 degree angles. I've not tried it with a 3d mouse yet, just on the laptop, but thats how most of us roll these days, isn't it? Also, you only have 3 options on the tilt plane too. Overhead, slight angle and a bigger angle. Up close and personal you lose the vector mapping overlay and have no control over this.

Right, it's getting annoying now. Lets go to the actual mapping data. First thing of note, I cant find any 45 degree imagery (maybe its in with the earth mode) and we have lost the terrain mapping. But, just in case everyone in the UK wasn't hating the new format enough, Google then change the style of the Maps to the US map style. Now, I did put a feature request in to allow us to change the colour of the routes in travel maps from Blue so we can better distinguish from our motorway network, but this is not what I meant!

Apple broke a golden rule of cartography when they placed form over accuracy and I think they have paid for it. I suspect that will be short lived though, Apple lovers will forgive them for anything. Now Google have broken another golden rule of cartography. The map shows POI's based on what they know about the user. Surely maps are about discovery, not about what we already know? Again I see that this may be of use to some users, but for me, as a mapping geek, this is unforgivable. 

And now they have managed to lose a whole Island. How does that happen? People of Jura, it looks like Bing is the way forward.


So what's next? Well, my SatNav of choice at the moment is the brilliant Waze. A community based mapping application. I'll let you have a look at this and recommend you give it a go but this blog is not about that. My point is, Google have purchased Waze. Why is that then? They are obviously spending some time on their mapping product and have an awful lot of community based knowledge. So what do they want with Waze? Are they buying it to shelve it? Not sure that's the Google way. They buy most of their applications and usually do a good job with them. Google Earth being the biggest success that comes to mind at the moment. 

I am really flummoxed on this one. The only reason I can come up with is they paid $1 billion just to stop Facebook acquiring a mapping application and for the foreseeable future will let Waze continue. Whilst I'm sure the T&C's will update to allow Google access to the rich community created data, it could be that this brilliant app will not get lost in the truly awful new Google Maps. Lets hope so.

Written and submitted from Home