More than just routes: Google Maps offers a wealth of features

  • Google
  • Saturday, 20 Jun 2020

If you use Google Maps on your laptop, you have much more overview of the area, and can then send the route you pick to your smartphone. — Catherine Waibel/dpa

Sure Google Maps is best known for helping people figure out how to get from point A to point B, but it also has several features built in that can make life easier, such as ordering food to be delivered.

Most of us use Google Maps without thinking and implicitly trust the information it presents to us. However, as Berlin-based artist Simon Weckert showed earlier this year, the app can be fooled.

Weckert had a colleague pull a handcart containing 99 smartphones around the German capital. The phones all had the Maps app open and location services switched on.

Even though the streets were nearly empty of cars, the profusion of phones tricked the app into thinking that there were traffic jams.

"We no longer have an inner map, we trust apps quite strongly," Weckert said in explaining his project.

He's right about that, but how many people know about all the other features of Google Maps? Here are some of them:

Book taxis and order food: If you search for the fastest way to your destination on Maps, you will find that in addition to public transport, taxi apps are also integrated. You can even find e-scooters. You can also use the app to order food and have it delivered. For some restaurants, you can also book a table.

"There's a lot of information about businesses: opening times or the rush at certain times," says Patrick Bellmer from the website Heise Online. However, you can't always rely on it, he says, because some of the information comes from Google rather than the business owner.

Find parking spaces: Finding your destination is usually very reliable with Maps. But where will you park when you get there?

The app can help here too. If you search for "Parking" on the map, you'll be shown parking garages and often an estimate of how full they're currently likely to be.

Plan your route on the computer: The desktop version of Google Maps often offers even more features than the app, but above all it offers a greater overview and better ease of use. Routes can be planned easily on the PC and then sent to the smartphone. It's also possible to create your own maps using the desktop version.

Find bike paths: Cyclists can also get a better overview in the desktop version. Clicking on "Bicycle" in the menu will show bike paths.

Maps also suggests a bike route after you enter a destination and will show the height profile of the route so you know in advance what kind of hill climbs, if any, are in store.

Navigate without Internet or GPS: The route has been selected, you want to start, but the GPS signal on your phone is weak or missing. Fortunately there's a solution if that happens.

"If there is no GPS available, the augmented reality function helps. Maps then shows the way from the user's perspective on the display. You can then orientate yourself, for example, using the front of houses," Bellmer says.

If you're travelling abroad or want to save mobile data, you can also download maps to your smartphone and use them offline.

Maps comes with a lot of features, but the trade-off is that the user shares a lot of data with Google. If you want to restrict this, you can switch to incognito mode and turn off location sharing. However, doing this means that some features can no longer be used, or at least not as conveniently. – dpa

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