Google Maps gets some big changes — here’s what new

Google Maps
(Image credit: Google)

Google's AI efforts aren't limited to adding kind-of-creepy movements to photos or hologram-like video messaging. The software giant is also taking its software smarts and applying them to Google Maps, introducing new capabilities to the popular directions app.

Google detailed these Maps improvements during its Google I/O keynote. The changes will roll out to both Android and iOS versions of the mapping software in the coming months and introduce a few new features while enhancing some of the Maps capabilities you may already be using.

For example, last August, Google launched detailed street maps, which depicted the exact location of sidewalks, crosswalks and other information you might need to safely get from Point A to Point B. Detailed street maps will be rolling out to 50 more cities before the year is out, Google says, with places like Berlin, Seattle and Singapore set to add support.

Other Google Maps changes are a lot more substantial, though, including new routing options as well as enhancements to the AR overlays available in Maps. Here's a look at five of the more interesting Google Maps changes that are coming to your phone.

Google Maps eco-friendly routes

Ask Google Maps for directions to a place, and you'll likely get several different routes — the fastest route, plus a few alternatives. Going forward, Google says that Maps will include the most fuel-efficient route as well.

Google IO 2021 — Google Maps

(Image credit: Google)

Presumably, Google's AI will take into account traffic information, optimal driving speeds and traffic lights to calculate which route gets you to your destination in the most fuel efficient way. It's the sort of feature that could Google Maps a leg up on Apple Maps, where the eco-friendly nod is to include EV charging stations along the route for users with electric vehicles.

Google Maps safer routes

Google also plans to use its machine learning skills to calculate safer routes, based on helping you avoid situations where you might have to suddenly break. Specifically, Google Maps will take into account how many lanes there are on the roads you may drive over and how direct the route is, using that data to identify the route where you're least likely to have to slam on the brakes. That, in turn, should reduce the likelihood of accidents along the way.

Google IO 2021 — Google Maps

(Image credit: Google)

Should the estimated time of arrival for the safest route be the same or not that different from other routes, Maps will automatically recommend that course.

Google Maps Live View enhancements

The Live View mode in Google Maps taps into augmented reality to give you real time directions. Subsequent updates have added support for indoor directions, too. The latest updates will make it easier to access Live View directly from a map, while adding other relevant info.

Specifically, AR overlays will show what shops and restaurants are around you. You can can tap to see how busy they are, read recent reviews and get other info. 

Google Maps street view

(Image credit: Google)

Just as helpful will be new virtual street signs to help you navigate particularly tricky intersections — something you'll really welcome if you ever come across a roundabout where several different streets spin off in all kinds of directions. Travelers will also be able to see where they are in relation to their hotel with the help of Live View.

Google Maps busyness data

One of the great things about Google Maps is that it can tell you when specific businesses and points of interest are likely to experience a lot of foot traffic, so that you can plan your visit accordingly. (The feature is so helpful, in fact, that Apple is rumored to be working on its own version for a future update to Apple Maps.)

Google Maps busyness

(Image credit: Google)

Google plans to expand its tools for measuring how busy places are, with Maps soon to be able to tell you the foot traffic in specific neighborhoods and sections of cities. The idea is that you can avoid the places that are overly crowded — or head directly to them, if you're the kind of person that enjoys a happening scene.

Google Maps recommendation improvements

You can fire up Google Maps for more than just directions, as the mapping software also can tell you about nearby businesses, eateries and other points of interest. Those suggestions are going to get a lot more focused going forward, according to Google. 

Specifically, if you launch Google Maps in the morning, you're likely to see recommendations for where to get coffee or breakfast, as opposed to dinner options. Weekend road trips may be more likely to have points of interest appear within Google Maps.

Read next: Google Maps is improving its eco-friendly routes feature, and is in the process of copying the best unique feature from Apple Maps

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.