Google Maps’ latest features aim to ease holiday season stress

Google is adding new pandemic-related data to Maps aimed at getting you safely through the holiday season and beyond.

First up, the Maps team is about to roll out enhancements to the app’s so-called “COVID layer” for iOS and Android. Launched in September, the feature offers lots of insightful pandemic data, such as recent case numbers for the part of the map that you have on the screen. You can enable the layer by tapping on the app’s “COVID-19” button at the top right-hand corner of your display.

Upcoming improvements to the COVID layer include the addition of all-time detected cases in an area, together with quick links to COVID resources from local authorities.

“This is especially handy if you’re heading out of town and need to get up to speed about the local guidelines, testing sites, and restrictions in another city,” Google Maps executive Dane Glasgow wrote in a post introducing the update.

To make it easier to avoid holiday crowds and ensure you can more easily stick to social distancing guidelines, Maps is also adding live crowdedness information for public transit.

“On Android and iOS globally, you’ll start seeing how crowded your bus, train, or subway line is right now based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users around the world (wherever data is available),” Glasgow said.

In addition, Maps is adding the real-time status of takeout and delivery orders in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil, and India when you book or order from Google Maps on Android and iOS. The app will also tell you when to collect your food, or when you can expect the delivery person to arrive at your location. Expected wait times and delivery fees will also show on the app.

Finally, aware that many folks will be making more trips in their cars over the holiday season, Maps will soon begin rolling out an early preview of an improved version of the Google Assistant driving mode, which acts as a kind of personalized dashboard. The new Assistant interface aims to let you “get more done while keeping your focus on the road.”

To try driving mode, navigate to a destination with Google Maps and tap on the pop-up. Alternatively, head to Assistant settings on your Android phone or say “Hey Google, open Assistant settings.” Then select Getting around, choose Driving mode, and turn it on. For now, the preview will only work for Android users in the U.S., in English.

Glasgow notes that Maps has now added almost 250 new features and improvements that focus on the pandemic, including live busyness information for millions of places, and the ability to easily see critical health and safety information at a glance.

He added: “We’re continuing to invest in ways to keep information in Maps fresh, with over 50 million updates made to the map each day. Even as the holidays approach, we don’t plan on slowing down.”

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