Skip to main content

The Best Google Maps Feature Ever Is Now in Testing

Lets face facts. Augmented reality has been mostly hype so far, with a lot of fun AR apps but no killer app to speak of.

But that’s about to change with the new AR Mode coming to Google Maps, which was annnounced at Google I/O in May and is now being tested by select Google Maps users.

Credit: The Wall Street Journal

(Image credit: The Wall Street Journal)

According to The Wall Street Journal, which had a chance to try out the feature, Google has chosen a handful of “Local Guides” to give AR directions a spin.

Imagine that you emerge from the subway and you’re waiting for that blue dot to get your sense of orientation. Now imagine you never have to do that ever again. With AR Mode in Google Maps, you simply hold your phone up as the camera gets to work recognizing your surroundings.

MORE: Here's the One Gmail Setting You Should Activate Now

From there, you’ll see directions overlaid on your phone’s live view that make it super easy to get around town. The virtual signposts are so big on the display that you don’t need to be constantly looking down at your phone.

In fact, Google advises that you only glance at your phone occasionally so that you don’t bump into other people (or don’t get mugged).

As the WSJ’s David Pierce notes, Google isn’t the only company working on this technology. The Hot Stepper app does something similar, but it’s not as sophisticated.

Pierce says that applications like this are a perfect fit for upcoming augmented reality glasses, whether they come from Google or not. But for now we're waiting for AR directions to simply exit the test phase so all smartphone users can stop guessing whether they're going the right way.

Alas, there's no firm release date, as the WSJ says that AR directions in Google Maps “will come to everyone only when Google is satisfied that it’s ready.”

See our list of the best Google Maps features for more on how to make the best of the navigational app.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for nearly 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.