As far as smartphone apps are concerned, there’s little doubt that Google Maps, Google’s eponymous navigation app, is nearly indispensable. Whether it’s getting your bearings in a foreign country or trying to find your way to the neighborhood watering hole, Maps an invaluable tool in any smartphone users’ arsenal. It’s got turn-by-turn navigation, satellite imagery, streetside imagery, offline mapping, and real-time traffic updates. And soon, it will reportedly gain a few more. According to Ausdroid, a future version of Google Maps will add support for location sharing, a “hands-free” driving mode, and new shortcuts.
Location sharing is perhaps the most self-explanatory of the forthcoming features. Ausdroid’s report lays out the details: When location sharing is switched on within the Google Maps’ settings menu, you’ll be able to share your current location with an approved list of friends. Tapping on a new Friends tab will take you to a management screen, and from there, you’ll be able to grant contacts access to your real-time location or take stock of the ones you’ve recently invited.
It’s a little reminiscent of Google Latitude, a since-shuttered service that operated on the concept of location sharing. It, too, let you share your location with friends, but with greater customization: You could provide an exact real-time location or provide less-precise whereabouts; you could manually enter a location or temporarily disable tracking; and you could selectively share your location with friends and contacts. It featured social elements, too, like a Foursquare-esque check-in feature and a Leadership board that awarded points for completing daily challenges. Google discontinued Latitude in August 2013.
Location tracking isn’t the only new feature on the way, it seems. “Hands-free faster routes” will you verbally accept — or decline — a faster route when Maps automatically suggests one. Improved performance and enhancements the app’s offline mode are reportedly in tow, too — specifically ones that “make searching and starting navigation much faster.” And there’s a new feature for Local Guides, Google’s social mapping platform that rewards users for rating places, uploading photos, and adding tips. An option within the “My Contributions” page within the forthcoming Maps app will place a shortcut to Local Guides on your phone’s home screen.
Ausdroid, unfortunately, wasn’t able to nail down the update’s release date.
If the new features see the light of day, they’ll follow on the heels of myriad others. A new “Nearby Traffic” widget indicates current traffic conditions along your route. A Popular Times features shows the busyness of a given location in real time. And recent ridesharing partnerships integrate Uber, Lyft, and others into the native Maps interface.
As helpful as Maps is most of the time, it hasn’t escaped 2016 without controversy. In November, Google shut down Map Maker, a tool that let users remove, edit, and add points of interest to Maps, after vandalization. It folded that functionality into its vetted Local Guides program instead.