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While there’s room for debate about whether Apple Maps or Google Maps is the better choice for navigation to your favorite places, there’s little doubt that Apple Maps is a clear winner when it comes to aesthetics.
There are still many good reasons why Apple users may prefer Google Maps, but an attractive design isn’t usually one of them.
Fortunately for fans of Google Maps, the company isn’t sitting still, though. During today’s Google I/O event, CEO Sundar Pichai took the stage to announce several new features for Google Maps, the most impressive of which is a new Immersive View that’s clearly Google’s answer to the recent improvements in Apple Maps.
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Using advances in 3D mapping and machine learning, Google has taken its library of billions of street-level images to create a new high-fidelity representation of places.
Rather than simply rendering a few buildings, Google aims to render entire cities in exquisite detail.
Pichai showed off London as an example, and the images were simply stunning.
Say you’re planning to visit Westminster with your family. You can get into this immersive view straight from maps on your phone, and you can pan around the site. If you’re thinking of heading to see Big Ben, you can check if there’s traffic, how busy it is, and even see the weather forecast. It’s London, so I’m guessing it’s raining. Sundar Pichai, Google CEO
Even more incredible is that Google Maps will also provide immersive machine-learning generated interior walkthrough-style views of places like restaurants.
Now, if you’re looking to grab a bite while you visit, you can check out restaurants nearby and get a glimpse inside. Sundar Pichai, Google CEO
Pichai showed an example of this, noting that even though it looks like a drone flying through the restaurant, it’s actually not. Instead, Google used photos from inside the restaurant combined with machine learning to generate a natural rendering of what it would look like to walk into and through the venue.
It’s unclear how long it will take to get many businesses on here — we can see it being a relatively slow and limited rollout — and the overall Immersive View is only being deployed out for select cities globally this year. London is obviously on the list already, but Google hasn’t shared which others will be included.
However, the good news is that since this runs using Google Cloud Immersive Stream, Pichai said it will be available on any smartphone. Naturally, he didn’t mention whether it’s coming to Google Maps on iOS, but we imagine it will get here eventually.
Pichai also took a moment to speak about another feature unique to Google Maps, eco-friendly routing.
It’s pretty surprising considering Apple’s strong environmental stance, but Google has beat Apple to the punch in offering the ability to recommend the most fuel-efficient routes when navigating to a destination. This helps users save on gas and reduce carbon emissions.
Google launched the feature in the U.S. and Canada last year, where Pichai says that it’s already been used to drive 86 billion miles, resulting in savings of half a million metric tons of carbon emissions. That equates to taking 100,000 cars off the road.
For example, taking a route recommended by Google Maps that’s only three minutes slower can reduce fuel consumption by 18 percent. As Pichai notes, these small decisions will have a significant impact at scale.
Later this year, Google Maps will begin offering the feature in European countries and several other places worldwide. The company estimates that this will double carbon emission savings by the end of the year.