Since Google unveiled its revamped Maps for the web at I/O in May, access to the new look and features was only available on an invitation-only basis.
Evidently happy with the way its coming along, the Mountain View company has just opened up its preview version to all, though you’ll have to sign in to your Google account (or create one) before you can check out what’s new.
“Building a smarter map is a journey, and we’d like you to join us in previewing the new Google Maps,” the company says on its access page, adding that it may email you for feedback as it moves towards a final release.
The new version sees the elimination of the left vertical sidebar, allowing the map to fill the screen. Based on your history of searches, reviews and ratings, the map will make “smart recommendations” that, hopefully, suit your tastes. “The more you use the map, the better it gets,” Google says in a promo video (below).
Recommendations and reviews will also be pulled from your Google+ friends, if you’ve joined the service, helping you to make more informed choices about what to do and where to go.
Click on a business or address you’re thinking about visiting and nearby roads and landmarks will become more prominent to give you a clearer idea of its exact location. A box will also appear in the top left of the screen offering more information about your intended destination.
Click on directions and the best routes from your current location will show up. However, a variety of transportation options will appear in the box and on the map, allowing you to compare distances and times.
Maps still, of course, includes Street View, though now there’s integration with Google Earth too – no plug-in required. So now, open the carousel and you have quick access to Street View, business photos and photo tours, while Earth View pulls the 3D experience from Google Earth, allowing you to get an even more realistic view of a huge variety of locations around the world.
The early response to the new design on Maps’ Google+ page is mixed so far, with comments ranging from “impressive” to “slower to load” to “it’s actually a downgrade”.
This is, however, a preview version, so Google should be listening to gripes and grievances and making fixes where appropriate. But forget what other people are saying and go try it for yourself!