Google Maps is getting a big 3D upgrade to make driving easier — what you need to know

Google Maps app icon on iPhone
(Image credit: Future)

Google Maps appears to be getting an upgrade here in the opening weeks of 2024 that enables 3D buildings to appear by default when using the iOS and Android apps in navigation mode.

This is a subtle but meaningful change that could affect millions of people if and when it rolls out to all Google Maps app users worldwide. While the apps have been able to display 3D models of buildings for some time now, you previously had to open the map layers menu and enable the "3D" map layer yourself to see them. Now, 3D buildings have started to show up in navigation mode without prompting for many users, giving them an additional visual cue as to how local buildings should look.

Google hasn't issued any official statement about the new feature yet, but eagle-eyed writers at 9to5Google spotted recent Reddit reports of it cropping up in the Google Maps mobile apps as well as on car screens via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

And sure enough, when I fire up my own copy of Google Maps on my iPhone I'm starting to see 3D silhouettes of big buildings looming over routes I plan in the app.

It might be hard to see at a glance in these screenshots, but click to zoom in and you'll see the 3D buildings are subtle and scaled, so you can get a sense of how tall they are relative to each other without losing sight of the road. (Image credit: Future)

However, don't stress if you're nervous about the notion of your go-to navigation app changing too much — in my testing so far the 3D effect on buildings is very subtle and easy to ignore when you're driving. 

You have to have Google Maps zoomed in pretty close to the road to even see it, and the buildings are rendered with a transparent 3D effect that subtly shifts position as you move the map, so you should have little trouble seeing the road and where you need to be on it.

While we don't yet know how it works, this new 3D view is right in line with the AI-assisted features Google announced for Maps back at Google I/O 2023, like the AI-powered Google Maps Immersive View that rolled out last year. With AI expected to be a major buzzword at CES 2024 later this month, I'd bet we'll see more features like this added to Google apps throughout the year. 

While Google has yet to issue any official announcement of how this new feature is rolling out to users or when you should expect it in your region, we're already seeing reports of people noticing it appear in their Google Maps apps in Canada, Hong Kong and the United States, so keep an eye on your Maps app to see if you've got it yet!

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Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.