Google overnight released the mobile companion of its desktop Google Maps update, touting an Explore feature that helps users find places to eat, drink, shop, play, and sleep; the ability to navigate around traffic issues; a new system for reviews; and the addition of offers from retailers.
While these features are welcome, and the tie-in of offers make for an interesting signpost to Google's future, there are a handful of omissions that are causing some consternation in the Android user community — a community that Google needs to keep onside, not outraged.
The first is the loss of the Latitude service — a reincarnated version of the Dodgeball service that Google acquired, which melded social networking, geo-location, and Google Maps. Latitude may not have been the biggest hit in usage terms, but it became extremely convenient to use once its check-in feature was built into Android's Google Maps app.
Come August 9, though, the feature for checking in will be removed from the Maps app and moved over to the Google+ app. No longer can Android users quickly access location services from a Maps app that's primary purpose is to serve your geo-location needs. The previous flow of navigating to a place of interest, clicking on said place, and hitting the check-in option while remaining inside the one application is now broken in favour of the user needing to start up a behemoth-sized application in the form of Google+.
It's not as though this is a grand addition of location to Google+; the wannabe social network has shared the check-in details of Latitude for some time. It is simply a removal of the most easily accessed point of interaction with the service.
Overall, as part of a strategy to move users into Google's social network, it is understandable on one level.
At the same time, the search giant also "removed" the My Maps and offline maps features from the Maps app.
My Maps is slated to return to the app at a later date, but the development team within Google has decided to remove any visible sign of an ability to take Maps offline in favour of what can only be described as a "unique" solution.
"Instead, we've created a new way for you to access maps offline by simply entering 'OK Maps' into the search box when viewing the area you want for later," said Daniel Graf, Google Maps director, in a blog post.
Discoverability be damned!
Google has chosen a phrase to take maps offline that has no relevance to the action it is performing, thus also killing any chance that should you forget the phrase, you cannot prompt yourself to remember it again.
The only reason that I am likely to remember "OK Maps" is the sheer level of disjoint shown by Google, and the disbelief I have that a development team could think that this phrase represents any sort of reasonable usability choice.
"Today's update is an exciting step forward for Google's maps — one that we hope will make it faster and easier for you to explore and discover places you want to go," says the blog post.
OK, Maps, whatever you say.