On February 6, 2020, Google threw a huge birthday party for its ubiquitous Maps app — complete with a brand new pin icon — marking its 15th year of helping people all over the planet find their way around locations near and far. Today, in addition to finding and navigating to particular places on its map, you can rely on Google Maps as a lifestyle app to pinpoint famous landmarks, local points of interest, services like hotels, coffee shops, and parks, turn-by-turn driving directions, public transit routes and schedules, and bike routes. Even if you’re a regular Google Maps user, chances are you’re not leveraging many of the diverse features the app now offers. This overview will help you master all that Google Maps can accomplish.
The new Maps redesign now displays five categories across the bottom of the screen — Explore, Commute, Saved, Contribute, and Updates — whereas previously, there were been three. And though not all features within those tabs are brand new, they bring more features than ever closer to the surface.
While you’re using Google Maps, be sure to keep your phone both accessible and safe with accessories like the best iPhone car mounts or a great car charger. If you prefer not to use your phone for directions, then check out the best in-car GPS devices.
How to use the Saved tab
Whether it’s a favorite place or store, or something you just want to check out in the future, Google Maps’ new Saved tab, located in the middle of the bottom icon bar, brings everything together to offer access to your favorite places or things. No longer are lists, labeled items, reservations, items you follow, or downloaded maps buried within other menus.
How to use Contribute
Say you want to write a restaurant review or take note of a local attraction or store, the new Google Maps update now delivers an entire tab devoted to these items on the main app screen. If you’ve used Google Street View in the past to post 360-degree panoramas of your favorite places, those will show up there too alongside your view count, likes, and comments. It’s not a new feature, but the update makes it much easier to find and use.
How to use Live View
Google added a new capability to its Live View augmented reality maps feature (now in beta) that lets you see the direction where you need to walk and the distance to your destination rather than overall turn-by-turn directions. It’s designed as an on-the-ground guide to help you identify exactly where to make turns or which way to start walking. That addition is geared toward helping people on foot who need to know if they’re going in the right direction but don’t need step-by-step instructions. As you’re walking, tap in your destination, the Direction button at the bottom of the screen and then the Walk icon at the top. Then tap the Live View button. The app uses artificial intelligence to superimpose arrows and a walking map to follow on foot.
How to turn on incognito mode
If you want to map locations and navigate in Google Maps without the app recording your search or location history, then you can use incognito mode. Since Google added incognito mode to Google Maps, you can also prevent your searches and navigation from impacting the personalized recommendations you get. To turn it on, tap your profile picture at the top right, then tap Turn on Incognito mode. You will see your picture icon change to the incognito icon so you are never confused about which mode you’re in. To turn it off again, tap the Incognito icon at the top right and tap Turn off incognito mode. Note that other apps or services running on your device may still continue to track your movements or searches, even with Incognito mode enabled.
How to save your home and work addresses
If you’re using Google Maps to get around town from work or home, you’ll want to first save those important addresses in the app. Here’s how to do it in the newest version. Launch Google Maps, tap the Saved button in the icon bar at the bottom of the screen and tap the Labeled tab at the top. To enter your home address for the first time or change your home address if you’ve moved, tap the three-dot icon on the Home line. From there, you can choose a new location on the map, choose a contact who has the new address (or your own contact card), change the Home icon, or get directions to that address from wherever you are currently located. You can follow the same procedure for your workplace and tap OK. You can now ask Google Maps to navigate to Home or Work instead of having to type in the address. You can also search for items like “restaurants near work,” and get a list of suggestions that you can filter according to hours, type of cuisine, ratings, and whether or not you have eaten there before.
How to get directions quickly
Everyone who uses Google Maps Navigation knows the navigation feature that offers voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions. But there’s a nifty shortcut to start it. You can search for a place or tap it on the map, then touch and hold the blue Directions button at the bottom right, and Google Maps will choose the best route and launch straight into Navigation mode. If you want to tweak the route or change your mode of transport, then just tap it once, make your changes, then tap Start.
How to share your real-time location
If you want to share your location in real time with family or friends then tap on your ID picture, and in the resulting menu, tap Location sharing. With that, a new menu appears with a blue Get Started button. You can choose to share your location with people in your Contacts for 1 hour, Until you turn this off, or use the plus or minus button to add or subtract location-sharing time. If they have a Google account, it will share your position with those designated people in their Google Maps app or sent as a link they can tap. You can also share your location via a host of other apps, like Messages. Anyone who is sharing their location with you will have their own tab at the top of the screen and you can tap on it to see where they are.
How to share a location
To share a location you like, whether you are currently there or not, just tap and hold on any location on the map to drop a pin. Tap the address section at the bottom of the screen to expand it, then tap Share. You’ll see a pop-up list of apps you can use to share your location. You can also send a photo view of the place.
How to see Street View on mobile
If you want to see a photo of your chosen place, use Street View. To access it, touch and hold on the map to drop a pin on your location, then tap at the bottom where it says Dropped pin (or the address) to reveal the information. You should also see an image of the location near the bottom of your screen. Tap that, and you’ll launch into Street View. To share that Street View, tap the menu in the top-right corner, and then tap Share.
How to find nearby locations
When you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for — or you seek multiple things — the Explore tab is there for you. Whether it’s gassing up the car, grabbing dinner and a movie, finding a decent place to stay, or taking a walk in the park, Google Maps has you covered with local points of interest. Tap the Explore tab at the bottom left of the screen, you’ll see a list of nearby locations and activities. Tabs at the top of the screen direct you to specific items like Restaurants, Coffee, Hotels, Bars, Attractions, Parks, and Gas to help narrow your search.
You can also search specifically by typing directly in the search bar at the top or via voice search by tapping the microphone icon at the top right. For whatever you search for, you’ll see rated listings, their distance from your location, hours of operation, and whether they are currently open or closed. You can often call businesses right from the Maps interface. If you slide the information panel down, then you’ll see that they’re even marked on your map.
How to zoom a map with one hand
Everyone knows how to use the pinch gesture in order to zoom in and out, but you can also zoom one-handed in Google Maps. A double-tap will zoom partially, but there’s another option. Tap twice on the map, leaving your finger or thumb on it the second time, and you’ll find that you can swipe down to zoom in and swipe up to zoom out. It can be a little awkward at first, but it’s there if you need it.
How to view maps offline
You don’t always have to be online to use Google Maps. With a bit of planning, you can download and view Google Maps offline, too. If you’re planning a trip to Oakland, for example, you would launch the app, search for Oakland, and then, select the Download button. With larger areas, you will get a prompt to select a smaller area and be advised of how much space it will consume on your device before it starts downloading in the background.
Your saved maps will be listed in the Google Maps menu, which is accessible by tapping your Google ID picture on the main Explore tab. One item in the list of options is Offline maps, and that is where you can view your download. These maps expire in one year, but you can update them anytime. Offline maps are pretty limited. You can’t get turn-by-turn directions, or search maps while you’re offline.
How to save favorite locations
Google Maps shows you recent searches when you tap on the search bar, but you can easily save locations, something that will be a real time-saver in the future when you look for a place again. To save a location, tap on the place you want to save on the map, expand the information by tapping on the address at the bottom, and then tap Save. You can choose to save it as a favorite place with the heart icon, mark it as a place you want to go, or add it to the list of your starred places. You can find your favorites and saved places under the Saved tab at the bottom of the main window.
How to check bus and train timetables
Google Maps can help you get where you want to go on public transportation and get there on time by letting you check bus and train schedules. Simply enter the location you want to travel to in the search bar, tap on Directions and tap on the icon of the train at the top. You’ll see a list of options based on the current time. If you want to check when a later train is available or see when the last train leaves, then tap where it says Depart at and enter a specific time, or you can tap on Last to find the latest option available. You can also filter the results by type of transport (bus, train, underground), and set preferences for fewer transfers or less walking via Options in the top-right corner. It even links to Lyft, which will launch a separate Lyft app to call for a ride, if you chose that.
How to change your map view
Google has several Maps views, including map types and map details. The major map types are Default (like a flat atlas), Satellite, and Terrain. You can view each of these alone, but you can also layer in details like Transit, Traffic, and Biking to each of the main views. To see Maps variations, tap the icon at the top right that looks like two stacked layers, and you’ll find view options for Satellite and Terrain. You can always tilt your map and get an isometric view in Google Maps. Tap and hold on the map with two fingers slightly apart and then swipe up. Moving your fingers in a circular motion will rotate the map. The Terrain option will show some hills, but it also sometimes shows the interior plan of certain locations.
How to use voice commands
Google Maps accepts voice commands. Just tap on the microphone icon at the top right and then speak your destination. You can also say OK, Google or Hey, Google if you have Google Assistant set up. You can turn off the voice by saying Mute or Be quiet. You can also say Show traffic, ask it to Show alternate routes, or say Next turn to find out what your next turn is. Many options have multiple triggers and there are lots of possibilities. You can browse Google’s full list of voice commands for a detailed summary of the various commands.
How to get directions for multiple locations
You can plot a route with multiple locations in Google Maps. To do so, set up directions for your first location as you normally would, then tap the three-dot button at the top right and choose Add stop. Add as many places as you need and then tap Finished. Google Maps will now guide you to each location in turn.
How to create your own maps
Google offers a comprehensive set of tools for creating your own custom maps for family and friends, allowing you to mark routes, points of interest, directions, and more. To get started, make sure you’re signed in to your Google account and go to My Maps in your browser. It’s easy to set a location and mark your POIs and routes, but you can also import layers and data, color different areas and routes, and more. Your creations are automatically saved to your Google Drive, and you can find them in the Google Maps app on your phone under Saved > Maps tab. You should get a short tutorial with tips if this is the first time you’ve tried making a custom map.
How to save parking location
It’s easy to forget precisely where you parked your car, but you can rely on Google Maps, which is pretty good at tracking this automatically, although it does depend on your location settings. You can also choose to save a parking location manually. Tap on the blue dot that marks your current location once you’ve parked, then choose Save your parking and it will be marked on your map. You can also tap to see nearby landmarks. If this a frequent problem for you, check out the best Find My Car apps.
How to check traffic
Traffic analysis is built into Google Maps and it can help you find the best route and avoid jams. It’s enabled by default when you request directions between two places. Red areas are backed up, orange is a bit congested, and green is clear. You’ll see icons to pinpoint road construction and speed cameras. You can also check traffic when you’re just browsing around. If you jump back to our change your view tip above, you’ll see Traffic listed as an option that you can overlay all the time.
How to check parking
It’s one thing to get somewhere, but what happens to the car once you arrive? Some places in the city can be positively nightmarish for parking. Google Maps offers parking advice for some locations. If you plug in your location and check the Directions screen then you might see a P icon next to the time and distance at the bottom. Tap on it and you’ll get an indication of how tough it might be to find parking at your location. For some locations, you’ll also see a Find parking option that will list possible parking locations nearby.
How to call for a ride
If you can’t find parking, or you’re without a car, and public transport isn’t going to get you there in time or at all, you can always check out services like Uber and Lyft. On the Directions page there’s an icon of someone hailing a cab at the top; tap on that you’ll see your options. You need an Uber or Lyft account to use those services, but once you have an account you can link it with Google Maps to make it easy to book a ride. If there are no options in your area then the hailing icon won’t appear. In that case, check out the best ridesharing apps for possible alternatives.
How to ask questions (Android only)
When you tap on a place of interest in Google Maps, you can access the page about it, which includes directions, a link to call, basic information, a website link, and often some reviews. For popular places, you’ll also find a Questions & answers section if you scroll down — but only in the Android version of the app. It can be a goldmine of useful information, though you will sometimes find silly comments in there, too. You can post your own questions for the community, which is particularly handy if it’s closed and you can’t call.
- Apple Maps vs. Google Maps: Which one is best for you?
- How to drop a pin in Google Maps
- Google celebrates 15 years of Maps with new features and redesigned logo
- Apple Maps expands its Street View-style imagery to 3 more cities
- The best Android 10 tips and tricks