May 7, 2014 Last Updated 7:24 am

Google updates Maps apps, adds major new features, seeks to retain users (and ad revenue)

Major acquisitions like Zagat, which attract advertisers, become less valuable if users stop using their navigation apps

When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone back in 2007, he tried to play a bit of a joke by saying Apple was introducing three new products: a widescreen iPod with touch controls (big applause), a revolutionary mobile phone (huge applause), and a breakthrough Internet communications device (scattered applause). Looking back, one can see the audience missed that third item pretty badly. Today’s smartphones are rather used for such mundane tasks as actually making a call, they surely much more than that.

One of those features that makes smartphones (and to a certain degree tablets) so essential to many owners is navigation – maps. Yesterday Google issued a major update to its maps apps for Android and iOS, bringing the app up to version 3.0.0 (nice even numbers surely show the significance of the update).

GoogleMaps-300-update

With improvement in Apple’s Maps, the default navigation on all iOS devices, Google needed to up its game if it wanted to keep devices owners using their app – and they have.

The app now features lane guidance, a feature that will work, Google says, on Canadian highways, in Japan on non-highway roads, and in the U.S. on all roads in major metropolitan areas (a new way to judge if your town is a “major” city). The feature, if it works (and God help drivers if it doesn’t) will suggest which lane you should be in when you approach an intersection or exit. It is a totally logical addition and should find it very helpful for avoiding those situations where they must be in the far right or far left lane in order to continue on the right route.

Here is the complete list of new features in the update:

  • Turn-by-turn navigation now gives lane guidance and quick access to route overview
  • View travel time, distance, and estimated arrival all at once in navigation mode
  • Save offline maps to a custom list for when you’re traveling or have a slow connection
  • Transit results now display total walking time of your trip and the next scheduled bus or train
  • Filter search results for restaurants, bars and hotels by rating, price, opening hours, and more
  • Sign in to see your “Places to review” list from recently saved or searched-for places
  • If you have the Uber app installed, open it right from Google Maps when comparing route options

Maps is one of those essential apps for Google. Losing map users would not just be an inconvenience, it would be a disaster. So much ad revenue is tied to maps that to lose this audience would be to lose revenue from restaurants, retailers, and others, and make those acquisitions such as Zagat less valuable.

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