Three years later, Google Maps is back on the Apple Watch

Google Maps has had a sort of spotty relationship with the Apple Watch over the years.

Google first shipped a Watch-friendly build of Maps back in September of 2015, just months after the Apple Watch first hit the shelves. In 2017, however, Google nixed Map’s Watch support with little more than a suggestion that it’d be back… eventually. Google didn’t offer up much of a reason as to why it was being pulled, nor did they suggest how long it might take to return.

Turns out the answer is three years. As of this morning, as spotted by 9to5Google, Google Maps is back on the Apple Watch.

We first found out about Google Maps’ pending return to the Apple Watch back in August alongside an announcement of deeper CarPlay integration. At the time, Google said it should show up within the “coming weeks.”

As Frederic noted at the time, even this second iteration might not be as feature-packed as Google Maps regulars might be hoping for. It’ll help you get from your current location to a handful of preset destinations (like home or work)… but if you want to go somewhere new, you’ll have to start the process on your phone first.

If you’ve already got Google Maps on your phone, updating the app should bring it back to your wrist.

Google Maps adds street-level details in select cities, more colorful imagery worldwide

Google Maps is getting a significant update that will bring more detail and granularity to its map, with changes that encompass both natural features and city-level details alike. For the former, Google says it’s leveraged computer vision techniques to analyze natural features from satellite imagery, then color-coded those features for easier visual reference. Meanwhile, select cities (including New York, San Francisco and London) will gain more detailed street information, like the location of sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian islands, for example.

These additions will help people better navigate their cities on foot or via alternative modes of solo transportation, like bikes and scooters, which some have opted for amid the pandemic. The supported cities will also show the accurate shape and width of a road to scale to offer a better sense of how wide or narrow a street is, in relation to its surroundings.

Image Credits: Google (before: left, after: right)

While the added granularity won’t include more accessibility features, like curb cuts for example, Google says that having the crosswalks detailed on the map will help in that area. The company also notes that Google Maps today displays wheelchair-accessible routes in transit and wheelchair attributes on business pages.

The updated city maps won’t show up immediately in the Google Maps app, we understand. Instead, Google says the new maps will roll out to NY, SF and London in the “coming months.” The vague time frame is due to the staged nature of the release — something that’s often necessary for larger apps. Google Maps reaches over a billion users worldwide, so changes can take time to scale.

The company notes that after the first three cities receive the update, it plans to roll out more detailed city maps to additional markets, including those outside the U.S.

Meanwhile, users both inside and outside big cities around the world will benefit from the changes to how natural features are presented in Google Maps.

Image Credits: Google

Google utilized a color-mapping technique to identify natural features from its satellite imagery, looking specifically at arid, icy, forested and mountainous regions. These features were then assigned a range of colors on the HSV color model. For instance, a dense forest will now appear as a dark green while patchier shrubs may appear as a lighter green. You’ll be able to differentiate between beaches and greenery, see where deserts begin and end, see how much land is covered by ice caps, see where snowcapped mountain peaks appear or view national park borders more easily, among other things.

These changes will reach all 220 countries and territories that Google Maps supports — over 100 million square kilometers of land, from bigger metros to rural areas and small towns.

Image Credits: Google

The update comes at a time when Google’s lead as everyone’s default mapping app is being challenged on iOS and Mac. While Apple Maps started out rough, a 2018 redesign and subsequent updates have made it a more worthy rival. Apple even took on Google’s Street View with its higher-resolution 3D feature, Look Around, which particularly targets big city users. More recently, Apple introduced a clever trick that allows you to raise your phone and scan the skyline to refine your location. And Apple is battling Google Maps’ explore and discovery features through its expanded, curated guides built with the help of partners. These updates have pushed Google to race ahead with improvements of its own in order to maintain its lead in maps.

Google says the new features and updates will roll out across Android, iOS and desktop in the months ahead.

Google Maps rolls out end-to-end directions for bikeshare users

Google Maps is making it easier for bikeshare users to navigate through their city with an update to Maps now rolling out across 10 major markets. Already, Google Maps could point users to bike-sharing locations and it has long since offered cycling directions between any two points. The new update, however, will combine both walking and biking directions in order to provide end-to-end navigation between docked bikeshare locations.

That is, Google Maps will first provide detailed walking directions to your nearest bikeshare location before providing turn-by-turn directions to the bikeshare closest to your destination. It then offers the final leg of the trip between the bikeshare drop-off and your destination as walking directions.

Before, users planning to use a bikeshare would have to create three separate trips — one to the first bikeshare to pick up a bike, the second to the bikeshare drop-off point, and then walking directions to their final destination. Now, you can plan this outing as one single trip in Google Maps in the supported markets.

In addition to the new end-to-end navigation, Google Maps in some cities will also display links that allow you to open the relevant bikeshare mobile app in order to book and unlock the bike.

The feature is rolling out over the weeks ahead in 10 cities, in partnership with transportation information company Ito World and supported bikeshare partners. These include the following markets:

  • Chicago, U.S. (Divvy/Lyft)
  • New York City, U.S. (Citi Bike/Lyft)
  • San Francisco Bay Area, U.S. (Bay Wheels/Lyft)
  • Washington, DC, U.S. (Capital Bikeshare/Lyft)
  • London, England (Santander Cycles/TfL)
  • Mexico City, Mexico (Ecobici)
  • Montreal, Canada (BIXI/Lyft)
  • Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
  • São Paulo, Brazil (Bike Itaú)
  • Taipei and New Taipei City, Taiwan (YouBike)

Google says it’s actively working to add more partners to bring the functionality to more cities in the months ahead.

The launch of the new feature again one-ups Apple Maps, which recently announced it was catching up with Google Maps by adding a dedicated cycling option within Apple Maps that will optimize routes for cyclists. Apple’s new biking directions can even show if a route includes challenging hills or there’s a bike repair shop nearby, if desired.

Ito World also noted in March it had partnered with Apple to integrate bikeshare data into Apple Maps, allowing iPhone owners to find bikeshare locations across 179 cities.

But Google continues to offer more detailed bikeshare information in its Google Maps product, having over the years launched features like dockless bike and scooter integration with Lime in more than 100 cities and real-time docked bikeshare information in select cities to show availability of bikes for rent.

Offering better biking directions has become even more of a competitive product in recent months for mapping providers, due to the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on travel and transportation. Some commuters, for example, have shifted to using bikes for their trips instead of relying on public transportation, like buses and subways. Google notes this impact has also been reflected in growing worldwide search interest for phrases like “bike repair shop near me,” which hit an all-time high in July — more than double what it was last year.

The updated bikeshare navigation is rolling out in the coming weeks, says Google.

Google Maps updated with COVID-19 info and related transit alerts

Google Maps is today introducing a series of new features to better inform travelers and commuters about how their trip may be impacted by COVID-19 — including travel restrictions, COVID-19 checkpoints, or even just the crowdedness of public transport. It’s also adding features that will help those traveling to COVID-19 testing centers better understand the eligibility and facility guidelines.

In several countries, Google says it will now display transit alerts from local agencies that will help users prepare for any government mandates that impact your ability to use public transit. For example, if services are closed or if you’re required to wear a mask, the alerts would include this information.

These are launching now in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the U.S., where Google has information from local transit agencies available, with more countries coming soon.

Google Maps will also now show if a trip’s navigation includes a COVID-19 checkpoint or restriction along your route, like when you’re crossing an international border. This is first launching with Canada, Mexico and the U.S., and will display an alert on the directions screen if your route is impacted. Google didn’t indicate any plans to expand this to more countries.

Similarly, alerts will appear when you plan a trip to a medical facility or COVID-19 testing center.

These alerts will be based on data Google receives from authoritative agencies, including local, state, and federal governments or from the center’s websites. Here, the idea is to make sure that people heading to a center are aware fo the guidelines so they’re not turned away upon arrival. For instance, if the center won’t see you without an appointment, that would be noted.

These alerts roll out first for medical facilities in Indonesia, Israel, the Philippines, South Korea, and the U.S., and testing center alerts will be available in the U.S. Google says it’s working to bring these to other markets and expand its work with agencies.

The updated Google Maps app will also expand access to the “crowdedness predictions” feature first introduced last year. This data is fueled by tens of millions of contributions from Google Maps users who ride public transit. Google crunched the numbers to make predictions about how crowded a particular bus or train line may be at a given time of day. It’s now making it easier for users to contribute their own observations.

In the updated app, when you tap through to see Transit directions when looking up a route, you can scroll down to see crowdedness predictions and add your own input, like “very crowded” or “not too crowded,” or other measures.

You’ll also now see the times when a transit station is historically more or less crowded or you can choose to look at live data by searching for a station in Google Maps or by tapping a station displayed on the map. This feature, which displays the departure board and busyness data, will roll out over the next few weeks.

This is powered by aggregated and anonymized data from users who have opted in to Google Location History. The company notes this setting is switched off by default and Google only displays the data when it has enough input to meet privacy thresholds.

Unrelated to COVID-19, Google Maps will also now roll out new transit insights like temperature, accessibility, and onboard security, as well as designated women’s sections in regions where available. These additions were first announced in February, but are now globally available. They also include more granular accessibility information for wheelchair users, like where there are wheelchair accessible doors, seating, stop buttons and more, Google says.

The expanded set of features will be live on both iOS and Android, in the markets where they’re available.

New nonprofit from Google Maps co-creator offers temporary ‘safe’ passes to aid COVID-19 reopening effort

There are a number of different technologies both proposed and in development to help smooth the reopening of parts of the economy even as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic continues. One such tech solution launching today comes from Brian McClendon, co-founder of Keyhole, the company that Google purchased in 2004 that would form the basis of Google Earth and Google Maps. McClendon’s new CVKey Project is a registered nonprofit that is launching with an app for symptom self-assessment that generates a temporary QR code, which will work with participating community facilities as a kind of health “pass” on an opt-in basis.

Ultimately, CVKey Project hopes to launch an entire suite of apps dedicated to making it easier to reopen public spaces safely.  Apple and Google recently launched an exposure notification API that would allow CVKey to include those notifications in its apps. CVKey also plans to provide information about facilities open under current government guidelines and their policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.

The core element of CVKey Project’s approach, however, is the use of a QR code generated by its app that essentially acts as a verification that you’re “safe” to enter one of these shared spaces. The system is designed with user privacy in mind, according to McClendon. Any identity or health data exists only on a user’s individual device — no date is ever uploaded to a cloud server or shared without a user’s consent. Information is also provided about what that sharing entails. Users voluntarily offer their health info, and the app never asks for location information. Most of what it does can be done without an internet connection at all, McClendon explains.

When you generate and scan a QR code at a participating location, a simple binary display (based on the location’s policies) indicates whether you’re cleared to pass. The location won’t see any specifics about your health information. The code simply transmits the particulars of shown symptoms (which ones and how recently, for instance), and then that is matched against the  public space’s policy. The app then provides a “go”/”no-go” response.

McClendon created CVKey Project with former Google Earth, Google Maps and Uber co-workers Manik Gupt and Waleed Kadous, as well as Dr. Marci Nielsen, a public health specialist with a long history of public and private institution leadership.

The apps created by CVKey Project will be available soon, and the nonprofit is looking for potential partners to participate in its program. Like just about everything else designed to address the COVID-19 crisis, it’s not a simple fix, but it could form part of a larger strategy that provides a path forward for dealing with the pandemic.

Google highlights accessible locations with new Maps feature

Google has announced a new, welcome and no doubt long-asked-for feature to its Maps app: wheelchair accessibility info. Businesses and points of interest featuring accessible entrances, bathrooms and other features will now be prominently marked as such.

Millions, of course, require such accommodations as ramps or automatic doors, from people with limited mobility to people with strollers or other conveyances. Google has been collecting information on locations’ accessibility for a couple years, and this new setting puts it front and center.

The company showed off the feature in a blog post for Global Accessibility Awareness Day. To turn it on, users can go to the “Settings” section of the Maps app, then “Accessibility settings,” then toggle on “Accessible places.”

This will cause any locations searched for or tapped on to display a small wheelchair icon if they have accessible facilities. Drilling down into the details where you find the address and hours will show exactly what’s available. Unfortunately it doesn’t indicate the location of those resources (helpful if someone is trying to figure out where to get dropped off, for instance), but knowing there’s an accessible entrance or restroom at all is a start.

The information isn’t automatically created or sourced from blueprints or anything — like so much on Google, it comes from you, the user. Any registered user can note the presence of accessible facilities the way they’d note things like in-store pickup or quick service. Just go to “About” in a location’s description and hit the “Describe this place” button at the bottom.

Apple opens access to mobility data, offering insight into how COVID-19 is changing cities

Apple is providing a dataset derived from aggregated, anonymized information taken from users of its Maps navigational app, the company announced today. The data is collected as a set of “Mobility Trends Reports,” which are updated daily and which provide a look at the change in the number of routing requests made within the Maps app, which is the default routing app on iPhones, for three modes of transportation including driving, walking and transit.

Apple is quick to note that this information isn’t tied to any individuals, since Maps does not associate any mobility data with a user’s Apple ID, nor does it maintain any history of where people have been. In fact, Apple notes that all data collected by maps, including search terms and specific routing, is only ever tied to random rotating identifying numbers that are reset on a rolling basis. This anonymized, aggregated data is collected only to provide a city, country or region-level view, representing the change over time in the number of pedestrians, drivers and transit-takers in an area based on the number of times they open the app and ask for directions.

As far as signals go for measuring the decrease in outdoor activity in a given city, this is a pretty good one considering Apple’s install base and the fact that most users probably don’t bother installing or using a third-party app like Google Maps for their daily commuting or transportation needs.

The data is available to all directly from Apple’s website, and can be downloaded in a broadly compatible CSV format. You can also use the web-based version to search a particular location and see the overall trend for that area.

For an individual, this is more or less a curiosity, but the release f this info could be very useful for municipal, state and federal policy makers looking to study the impact of COVID-19, as well as the effect of strategies put in place to mitigate its spread, including social distancing, shelter-in-place and quarantining measures.

Apple has also announced that it’s working with Google on a new system-level, anonymized contact tracing system that both companies will first release as APIs for use by developers, before making them native built-in features that are supplemented by public health agency applications and guidance. Apple seems particularly eager to do what it can to assist with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, while still striving to ensure that these measures respect the privacy of their individual users. That’s a hard balance to strike in terms of taking effective action at a population level, but Apple’s reach is a powerful potential advantage to any tools it provides.

Google unveils Maps, Search and YouTube features in India to help people combat coronavirus

Google has launched a website dedicated to coronavirus updates in India and tweaked its search engine and YouTube to prominently display authoritative information and localy relevant details about the pandemic from the nation’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the company said on Monday.

Additionally, Google is also showing more than 1,500 food and night shelters in about three dozen cities in India on Google Maps and Search to guide people in need, it said. Millions of migrant workers in India recently started to head to their home towns as their work disappeared after New Delhi ordered a 21-day lockdown across the nation last month to fight the spread of the infectious disease.

People can also find these locations by asking Google Assistant about “food shelters,” for instance, in English and Hindi. Assistant is available to users on smartphones, KaiOS-powered feature phones and through a Vodafone-Idea phone line. (The company said it is working on supporting additional Indian languages.)

The Mountain View-headquartered giant, which counts India among one of its key overseas markets, said it has published COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to help health officials in the country in their decision-making. The reports capture how traffic and movement across public places such as parks, transit stations and grocery stores have changed in the country in recent weeks.

On Maps, Google has also introduced Nearby Spot on Maps to help people in the nation find local stores that are providing essential items such as groceries.

YouTube and Search are showing consolidated information including the top news stories, links to MoHFW resources, as well as access to authoritative content on symptoms, prevention, treatments and more, Google said. YouTube has additionally also launched a ‘Coronavirus News Shelf’, feature atop the homepage that provides the latest news from authoritative media outlets regarding the outbreak.

In recent weeks, Google’s Pay service, as well as Walmart’s PhonePe and Paytm, introduced simplified ways to donate to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fund to fight the coronavirus. Google said people have used its payments service to donate north of $13 million to date.

More to follow…

Google unveils Maps, Search and YouTube features in India to help people combat coronavirus

Google has launched a website dedicated to coronavirus updates in India and tweaked its search engine and YouTube to prominently display authoritative information and localy relevant details about the pandemic from the nation’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the company said on Monday.

Additionally, Google is also showing more than 1,500 food and night shelters in about three dozen cities in India on Google Maps and Search to guide people in need, it said. Millions of migrant workers in India recently started to head to their home towns as their work disappeared after New Delhi ordered a 21-day lockdown across the nation last month to fight the spread of the infectious disease.

People can also find these locations by asking Google Assistant about “food shelters,” for instance, in English and Hindi. Assistant is available to users on smartphones, KaiOS-powered feature phones and through a Vodafone-Idea phone line. (The company said it is working on supporting additional Indian languages.)

The Mountain View-headquartered giant, which counts India among one of its key overseas markets, said it has published COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to help health officials in the country in their decision-making. The reports capture how traffic and movement across public places such as parks, transit stations and grocery stores have changed in the country in recent weeks.

On Maps, Google has also introduced Nearby Spot on Maps to help people in the nation find local stores that are providing essential items such as groceries.

YouTube and Search are showing consolidated information including the top news stories, links to MoHFW resources, as well as access to authoritative content on symptoms, prevention, treatments and more, Google said. YouTube has additionally also launched a ‘Coronavirus News Shelf’, feature atop the homepage that provides the latest news from authoritative media outlets regarding the outbreak.

In recent weeks, Google’s Pay service, as well as Walmart’s PhonePe and Paytm, introduced simplified ways to donate to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fund to fight the coronavirus. Google said people have used its payments service to donate north of $13 million to date.

More to follow…

Google to shut down its India-focused Q&A app Neighbourly

Google is shutting down Neighbourly, a Q&A social app that it launched in Mumbai two years ago, the company has informed users.

The app, developed by company’s Next Billion Initiative, aimed to give local communities an outlet to seek answers to practical questions about life, routine and more.

At the time of the app’s launch, Google told TechCrunch that it believed that an increase in urban migration, short-term leasing and busy lives had changed the dynamic of local communities and made it harder to share information quite so easily.

The app supported voice-based entry for questions and a range of local languages.

In an email, Google said Neighbourly helped users find answers to over a million questions, but it did not get the traction the company was hoping for. The app will shut down on May 12, but users have another six months to download their data.

“We launched Neighbourly as a Beta app to connect you with your neighbors and make sharing local information more human and helpful. As a community, you’ve come together to celebrate local festivals, shared crucial information during floods, and answered over a million questions,” the company wrote to users.

“But Neighbourly hasn’t grown as we had hoped. In these difficult times, we believe that we can help more people by focusing on other Google apps that are already serving millions of people everyday,” it added, pointing users to explore Google Maps’ Local Guide, which also allows sharing of knowledge with local communities.

The app had such low-traction that third-party intelligence services such as App Annie and Sensor Tower don’t have any substantial data about it. But on Play Store, Neighbourly is listed to have more than 10 million downloads.