Anyone who uses Google's Maps app on their smartphone or tablet should see some new features starting today. Building on some of the vast changes to Maps it outlined in May at its developer's conference in San Francisco, Google has redesigned the popular app, aiming to improve its search and navigation features.
One of the most useful new features, especially for those who do a lot of driving to client offices or worksites, is an upgrade to the traffic feature. Not only can you see the same colored lines indicating current traffic speeds, but now tiny icons indicating accidents or construction can be clicked on to show further details such as lane closures. With this update, Maps can act as a personalized traffic reporter, looking ahead to problems on your route and even offering to direct you around traffic jams.
Business reviews are also much heartier and more detailed with this redesign, including Zagat reviews and listings incorporated directly into the app itself. Google acquired Zagat in 2011, making its restaurant search even more robust. Business ratings are standardized on a 5-point scale.
Google Maps also uses Zagat information and a host of other variables to create expanded local guides, which are accessed from the search window. Just tap the search bar without typing anything and you'll be greeted with five categories: eat, drink, shop, play and sleep. You can narrow your search by "local favorites" or "tourist favorites," which Google determines by combining information from users who have set their home location to that city, or elsewhere. This can be especially useful for business travelers who often find themselves in locations they're unfamiliar with.
Google has also changed is the offline maps functionality. Now, to save a cached version of the map you're currently viewing, up to an entire city view, a user only needs to type or say "OK Maps" in the search box and the map is saved for viewing later.
This new version of Google Maps is available for Android users now, and should be available soon for iOS, Google says. Both Android and iOS updates also include greater usability for tablets, including smart reformatting to take advantage of both screen size and orientation.
Related: Google+ Gets a Major Makeover