It turns out that Google Maps is pretty important to Google with roughly 50% of searches having a geographical component. Google SA’s Stephen Newton started off answering a question I had. Why is there a launch for Google Maps in SA when we’ve had Google Maps for some time now. It turns out that the version of Google Maps we were about to be introduced to is a new release.
One of the features of the new Google Maps initiative is free business listings. Another is directions which has been missing from Google Maps until recently (I first noticed it a couple days ago and used it earlier this week to find a meeting location after Nokia Maps took a while to find me and where I wanted to go).
If you use the local maps.google.co.za domain you will find that local content is given precedence. One nice touch is that you can search using popular names in some contexts. For example, you can look for “Joburg” when you are search for stuff about “Johannesburg”. An really handy feature for people wanting to learn more about the locations they are searching for is that you can click on a link “more info” …
… and be presented with a profile page of sorts about that location which aggregates information available on the Web:
For local businesses the business listings parallel the place profile pages. These profiles can contain a variety of rich media about the business, reviews, search results and contact information. It sounds a little like a crowdsourced Yellow Pages with arguably more useful information about these businesses and places. Business listings are free, as in air, and businesses are encouraged to add as much information about their business as they can. Google wants your rich media! This isn’t purely altruistic (although the potential benefit to businesses and consumers alike is substantial). No doubt richer business listings provide more opportunities for Google ad sales but this is something that works out well for all concerned, I think.
The addition of a series of information layers adds photos, Wikipedia articles and webcams. This is going to be a pretty handy tool for tourists, especially with the 2010 World Cup coming up next year. I am sure they thought about that … But wait, there is more. There is transit information:
Tourists will find that place and street names have been translated into a number of foreign languages including Japanese, Russian, Hebrew and so on. They can even search for place names in a foreign language using phonetically similar terms.
The travel directions appeal to me and although routes don’t change dynamically on your mobile device as you are driving, you can change the route by dragging points on the route around. In the process you will be presented with information about the trip including distance and travel times.
Of course no Google product would be complete without a mobile version. We were treated to a demonstration of the Samsung Galaxy (I think) and Google Maps on Android. Samsung sees Android as a strategically important platform and this really reinforces my thoughts about Android which I rambled about yesterday.
Watching Google Maps being demonstrated on the Samsung Android phone (and similar devices) you can really begin to appreciate how powerful our mobile experience of the Web will be as more and more smart devices rollout and additional features like Street View and other augmented reality apps find their way on to those devices.
As we were watching the presentations, I noticed this gem on the Google Blog:
Here it is in action: