Google Maps is about to get much better on Android, with the first of what could be a series of clever and helpful new widgets.
The local traffic widget is a little map that lives on your homescreen, constantly updating to show you what the nearby traffic conditions are like. It doesn’t do much else, beyond letting you zoom in and out with a single tap, but it could still prove to be incredibly useful.
It was announced in a blog post (opens in new tab) promoting Android widgets, particularly those available on Google’s own apps, and it's definitely welcome. Google has been rolling out a bunch of new Maps features recently, including improvements to the widgets on iOS, but at the moment Google Maps’ Android widgets are almost exclusively made up of home-screen shortcuts.
These single 1x1 app icons let you open a specific Google Maps feature like Driving Mode or Directions, but until now the only “proper” Android widget is a search bar to help you find businesses and locations more quickly.
That will change once once the local traffic widget arrives "in the coming weeks," giving you the ability to see nearby conditions at a glance, without having to find and load up the Google Maps app first.
But the launch of this widget is less about what it can do, and more about what it represents for Google Maps on Android. More specifically the fact that Google is willing to give us better and more useful homescreen widgets than those that are currently available.
iOS got a taste of this back in April, with a “Pinned Trip” widget. The name is pretty self-explanatory: the widget lets users see details of any journeys they’ve saved to Google Maps’ Go tab, without having to open up the app. Android doesn’t have a Google Maps widget like it right now, but there’s no reason why it can’t — and the new local traffic option proves that.
So, fingers crossed that this is the first of many widget upgrades Google has in store for us. I just hope that having a constantly updating home screen widget isn’t as bad for battery life as I suspect it might be.
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