Google Maps AR mode previewed, now in testing with small group of users

Google Maps’ new augmented reality mode, previewed by The Wall Street Journal, will soon be available to the public, but for now, it is being tested by a small group of users.

The Google Maps AR mode was first showcased in last year’s Google I/O as the app’s upcoming visual positioning feature. Instead of users having to orient themselves through the little blue dot on the app, the feature will use the smartphone’s camera to help users determine exactly where they are. In the future, users would be able to point their camera at a street or building, and the app will not only show the details of the location, but also where to go to reach the user’s destination.

That future, apparently, is drawing near. Augmented reality on Google Maps was previewed by The Wall Street Journal’s David Pierce, who said that the feature is easily accessed by opening the app and hitting the Star AR button. Upon doing so, the system will first ask for the phone to be moved around to determine the user’s exact location. It will then provide directions to the entered destination, in the form of on-screen arrows supported by the familiar Google Maps interface.

Google apparently does not want users to rely too much on AR mode, though. If activated for too long, Google Maps will first ask users to lower the device, and then darken the screen if users resist. In addition to conserving battery power and data, limiting the usage time of the feature prevents safety concerns such as users wandering onto busy streets while holding up their smartphones.

To fully utilize the Google Maps AR mode, a wearable device such as Google Glass will be required. However, in the absence of such, the purpose of the feature would be to help users gather their bearings, such as when they find themselves in a complex intersection.

Google Maps AR mode has started testing with Local Guides, which is a small group of users that serve as community reviewers. Google has not identified a public release date for the feature, but it should be launching soon to join the bevy of updates that have been recently added to the app, including speed limits for drivers, direct messages to businesses, and hashtag support for reviews.

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