Last night, Google rewarded night owls with a new version of its Maps app. The update brings a whole new UI as well as a few new discovery features. Here is a selection of all the best new stuff.
See Local Traffic Incidents
In previous versions of Google Maps, you could see how heavy traffic was in certain areas, but not why. This update brings live traffic incident reporting. Tap the "Traffic" item in the sidebar (or view your entire route in Navigation) and locations that could cause traffic problems will show up, including construction, road blocks and major traffic accidents. During navigation, these will appear near your route, not just on them. This way, you'll be aware of any problems should you decide to hop off your route for a while.
Find New Places with the "Explore" and "Services" Cards
If you tap the empty search box in Maps, you'll see a number of new cards popping up as search suggestions (and many are on this list). The Explore card functions a lot like Local did in the old Maps, letting you find new places in your area by searching through different categories. The new interface is much brighter, is packed to the brim with photos, and reviews at-a-glance.
The "Services" card has a similar function, but a much different interface. Services is actually a collection of quick links to things you might need to find nearby: gas stations, ATMs, parking, hospitals, etc. Tap on one category and all the locations Google can find will be overlaid on the map. This view is a little frustrating in that you only see results based on where they are, not on how they rank. If you prefer the old way, you can tap "Results list" to see the locations listed in order.
Your Search History is More Tightly Integrated
Explore and Services aren't the only new cards that searching will bring up. For starters, you'll get a "Nearby from your history", which will show locations you have searched for above just the area you're looking at. So if you're looking at the other side of town and you tap the search box, only places you've searched for in that region will show up.
Additionally, you can easily edit this search history. Tap Settings in the side bar and then select "Maps history." Here, you can see all the addresses and terms you've searched for, and remove any of them. In previous versions of maps you could see a small selection of your history when you tapped the search box, but Google has been integrating what you search for into its products much more tightly between Google Now and Maps. This ability to fine tune which places you really care about could prove invaluable to improving that automation for you.
Home and Work Addresses Are Prominently Featured (and Editable)
Work and home addresses have been a big part of Google's picture of you since Google Now was first introduced. However, they weren't always super easy to edit or even navigate to. With this update, every time you search for directions, one of the available cards will include your work and home addresses.
Additionally, you can edit those addresses from the app itself. Tap Settings in the side panel, then select "Edit home or work". It's a small thing, but given that Google has been diving these critical pieces of information by itself in most cases (though, to be fair, with a decent degree of accuracy), it's nice to see an easy place to override them if you change either or Google just gets it wrong.
Search for Contacts by Name
This is one of those features that makes you wonder why it didn't exist sooner. When you search for a contact's name directly, their address will be included among search suggestions. If you submit your search, your friend's location won't appear, but it is a quick tap away while you're typing.
Pre-Load Maps with a Voice Command
This feature is actually a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, pre-loading maps isn't quite the power-user feature that it once was. You can't select a section manually or manage your cached maps in Settings like you used to. Once it's cached, it's just there. The only way to get rid of it is to empty all your app data.
On the other hand, it couldn't be easier for average users to activate the feature. As we covered earlier, while viewing the area you want to save, just search for "okay maps", either by typing it out or with a voice command, and the entire area will be downloaded.
Shake Your Device to Send Feedback
I can openly admit that shaking a device is my least favourite way to accomplish almost anything ever. However, the new "shake to send feedback" feature is perfect. If you're looking for a place on your device and Google gives you some incorrect information or sends you down the wrong road, the first thing you're going to do is yell and shake your phone violently. Now, when you do that, you'll get a handy box prompting you to tell Google exactly what it did wrong and how to fix it. How very accommodating.
The new Maps is rolling out "over the next few weeks". If you're not the patient sort, you can download the APK directly, but keep in mind this is an unofficial mirror and may not be optimised for your device.