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Google Maps gains a shortcut to the Traffic screen and readies a real-time ‘busyness’ view

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Google Maps is the veritable Swiss Army knife of mobile navigation. It provides directions to pretty much any place imaginable, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It lets you store mapping data offline, highlight nearby areas of interest, organize the places you visit into lists, and even edit mapping information to improve its accuracy.

Just a few short weeks ago, Google Maps gained another feature: a new screen, “Traffic Nearby,” that shows traffic conditions based on current location. And soon, it will gain two more features: a shortcut to the aforementioned traffic view, and a real-time “busyness view.”

The traffic view shortcut, which isn’t yet available on iOS just yet, is straightforward. It lives on Android’s default widget list — on most devices, pressing and holding on the home screen surfaces will surface it the quickest, but Map notifications about traffic now include an option to add the shortcut. It takes the form of a circular blue-and-white icon, and does what you’d expect: tapping it launches the Traffic view within Maps for your location.

Perhaps more exciting is functionality that has yet to be launched: a means of judging the “busyness” of a given venue in real time. In July 2015, Google rolled out “Popular Times,” a feature which estimates the popularity of restaurants, businesses, theaters, and other nearby locations on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. It has worked in the past by passively querying the GPS location signals and Wi-Fi of users with Google Maps installed, but Android Police discovered evidence of a real-time mode.

In future versions of Maps, you might be able to see just how a concert’s affecting the busyness of the local auditorium, for example, or whether or not the latest summer blockbuster is impacting attendance at a multiplex.

Based on Android Police’s digging, “real-time busyness” will likely appear as a new filter in Google search. When you type in the name of a business, you’ll see not only the familiar “Popular Times” tab, but a new “Live” option; if there’s enough data for the location in question, you’ll get a measure of the spot’s busyness over the past two hours. A screenshot of the reported interface emerged earlier this year, but it’s unclear whether or not the view in Maps will adopt the same design.

The new Traffic shortcut has begun rolling out to Google Maps users enrolled in the Android beta program. The real-time busyness view may take a bit longer — Android Police wasn’t able to uncover more than a few lines of code, indicating it’s a feature very much in progress.

In an interview with Business Insider, Jen Fitzpatrick characterized Google Maps as “an important factor” in creating the digital assistant of the future — the next generation of Maps, Fitzpatrick said, will have a much more detailed “understanding of the world,” put more emphasis on the “individual user’s past experiences at specific locations,” and incorporate things like natural disasters and emergency services.

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