How to navigate with the AR mode in Google Maps to find your way

Whether you live in a big city or are just visiting, finding a specific location can be a little difficult. It can be easy to get turned around righdt when you get off the subway or train, for example, and the compass in the maps app you’re using may not offer much help. Google’s solution is an integrated augmented reality (AR) mode for walking navigation, to help point the way.

The company first announced the feature at Google I/O 2018, and it’s finally making its way to the Maps app. However, AR Mode is exclusive to Google’s Pixel phones at the moment — including the new Pixel 3a. Update your Maps app and make sure you’re on version 10.15 or later. You can check the version by tapping the hamburger menu at the top left in Maps, then Settings > About, terms & privacy. There are also a few stipulations, even if you do have a Pixel phone. It’s only available for use outdoors and in areas with recently published Street View images; AR Mode is not available in India; and because the camera is needed to recognize buildings, it will not work in low-light environments.

For a quick primer on augmented reality, it’s when you can see virtual icons and images layered over the real world — think seeing Pokémon in Pokémon Go. In this case, these virtual icons are seen through the Google Maps app, with the help of the camera on the back of your phone.

Using AR Mode

Once you’re ready to go, look up a destination. AR Mode only works in walking navigation, so the location will ideally need to be relatively close. Tap Directionsmake sure you’re on the walking tab, and you should see a button next to the Start button that says Start AR. Tap on this, and the camera will launch.

You’ll see a small part of the map at the bottom, so you still have a top down view. You’ll need to pan your phone in a sweeping motion slowly so the camera can see the buildings and signs around you. It will take a few seconds, as the camera is scanning its surroundings to understand where you are.

Once it has figured it out, you’ll get audio notifications, but you will also see a giant virtual marker on the street you’re on, telling you which direction to head. Point your phone around, and you can see the next marker, and maybe even the location pin for where you’re trying to go.

google-pixel-3a-xl-google-maps-ar
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Follow the virtual signs. While you’re walking, Google Maps will tell you to put your phone down so you can see where you’re going clearly. If you do so, the Maps app will go back to the normal navigation screen, but as soon as you put your phone back up, it will automatically turn on the AR Mode again.

As you reach a new virtual marker, you’ll get more audio notifications. Move your camera around and you’ll see the next marker. Keep following them, and you will eventually reach your destination.

AR Mode is meant to help you find your way quickly if you’re unsure which direction to head. While it’s an exclusive feature for Pixel phones right now, it’s likely AR Mode will become a staple feature in Google Maps for all phones eventually.

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