The Maps Wars are on in earnest, with Apple Maps now finding its feet after a shaky start, and Bing Maps forming an integral part of Windows Phone, Google Maps can't afford to stand still. A recent overhaul brought bringing more customization options, extra features and a brand new look. Here are 10 useful tips and tricks to help you navigate the best maps service on desktop and mobile, now that it's getting even better.
The major Google Maps refresh of 2013 stripped out much of the on screen furniture to leave just the map itself and a lonely looking search box. As with its equivalent on Google.com, this search box is more clever than you might think. Try typing "libraries in London" or "art galleries in Liverpool," for example. You can input latitude and longitude coordinates, or two roads (separated with "&") to find the corresponding intersection. As with Google's search engine, suggestions will appear as you type, which may help you narrow down a vague query.
Once you've got an area or address on screen, you can run further queries from the search box based on the section of the map that's currently visible. Zoom in to see fewer results; zoom out to see more. As well as searching for specific types of places like "hotels" or "restaurants" you can try more abstract terms too, searches such as "family fun," "indoor activities," or "art and literature" will all produce relevant results for your chosen area.
Want to see everything in a particular area that Google Maps knows about? Enter an asterisk ("*") into the search box and hit Enter (or click the blue search button). You'll need to be zoomed in quite a way to avoid getting overwhelmed with red dots (unless you happen to be in the middle of nowhere). Places marked with a yellow halo are recommended locations that Google Maps thinks you'll like, based on your previous Maps history and ratings.
The asterisk trick can be a useful way of finding out about a particular neighbourhood or street before you visit; it also forces Google Maps to show its hand in terms of the places it has registered on the map without customizing or personalizing the results to suit you.
Depending on where you're going to and from, Google Maps may offer up several choices of route when you call up the directions function. If you want to make a specific detour or avoid a certain area, you can manually change these routes yourself; hover over the blue route line to see a white dot, then drag this dot anywhere you like to alter your travel plans. The steps of the journey, the distance, and the estimated time will all be updated automatically based on your changes.
As we've previously reported, you can cache the current map on the mobile apps by entering "ok maps" into the search box. It's a strange little Easter egg with echoes of Google Glass, presumably it will eventually be replaced by a more official offline feature (as in the old Maps app) but for now it's a quick and easy way of storing particular sections for offline use, should you happen to lose signal while you're out and about.
Google hasn't yet transferred the Share option over to the new Maps on the Web (you can simply copy the URL if you wish), though it is available in Google Maps for Android and iOS. When you are viewing the results of a search or after you've placed a pin on the map, tap the location bar at the bottom then choose "Share" — the available options will vary depending on the other apps you have installed, but you should at least have the option to copy the link to your device's clipboard.
You might not always have both hands free while you're using Google Maps for Mobile (when hanging on for dear life in a subway car perhaps) but you can still zoom in and out. Double tap on the screen, but don't release your finger after the second tap. Slide up the screen to zoom in, and down the screen to zoom out. The single finger shortcut works on both Android and iOS versions of Google Maps.
If you'd rather trust the recommendations of the people inside your Google+ circles than the online community at large, check the "Your circles" option that appears whenever you run a search (add "by:circles" to any search term to achieve the same effect). Of course the usefulness of the feature depends on how many Google+ contacts you have, and how diligent they've been in reviewing the restaurants, hotels and bars they've visited.
Clear the search box, click on any street and the address and ZIP code appear. You can then drop a marker on to the map, zoom into Street View, get directions to or from the place in question or use the links under "Explore this area" to find nearby points of interest (your choices, such as "places to stay," will vary depending on where you are).
Google's Map Maker is now live in the US, UK and many other countries, it enables you to make minor corrections, drop in new locations and add other edits for the benefit of Google Maps users around the globe. Whether your favourite coffee shop is marked in the wrong location or your road has been changed to a one-way street, you can make these alterations yourself. You can also drop in footpaths and cycle lanes to help visitors navigate around your area. All modifications must be approved by Google's team of moderators before going live, and once you're logged into Map Maker there's the option to see the changes other users are making as well.