GPS has done wonders for the directionally challenged, but there’s still a few quirks. Every time I emerge from the stinky depths of the New York City subway, for instance, my phone’s compass takes forever to figure out which direction I’m pointed in. Half the time I end up walking a few blocks in the wrong direction, especially if it’s in a neighbourhood or city I’m not familiar with. But today, Google announced its finally rolling out its Live View augmented reality walking directions in Google Maps.
The feature was initially introduced back in 2018 at Google I/O, and it’s been available for Pixel phones since March. Over the next week, it should be rolling out to non-Pixel Android phones capable of running ARCore and iPhones capable of running ARKit, which you can find listed at the bottom of this page.
To access the feature, you enter a destination in the Google Maps app, get directions, and set the transportation mode to walking; near the bottom of the screen, you should see an option to start Live View.
At a Google event yesterday, a spokesperson told me the feature works by analysing the buildings around you to get a sense of where you are. That’s based on years of Street View data so that your phone can actually make an educated guess as to your location and where you need to go.
Arrows help the directionally hopeless aka me.
While I didn’t get the rollout just yet on my iPhone, Gizmodo thankfully had a Pixel on hand. I tested the feature out on a short walk from our Times Square office to Radio City Music Hall. It starts out asking you to scan buildings and signage across the street. Once it’s figured out your starting point, you’ll then see large directional arrows telling you where to go, and for how long.
That said, it’s a little unnatural walking around with your phone up – and in Times Square, it’s asking to get run over by a pissed-off bike courier. To Google’s credit, the app told me multiple times not to walk with my phone up. When I put the phone down, it switched back to the regular Map view and buzzed when I needed to make a turn.
Small hiccup where it couldn’t recognise the buildings. Worked after I restarted the app.
That’s where I ran into a snag. The Maps app was then unable to relocate where I was once I brought it up again. I tried pointing the Pixel multiple times at buildings across the street, but to no avail. Exiting the app and starting over, however, seemed to get things working again.
So while Live View isn’t without its bugs, it can be helpful, especially in cities. My neighbourhood, for instance, has so many tall buildings and is right near the Hudson River, so trying to GPS my way to a local bar or restaurant is nigh impossible. I don’t know if I’d use this feature super often – NYC, thankfully, uses an easy-to-navigate grid system. That said, I can see myself whipping it out next time I’m completely disoriented after leaving the subway. Which, unfortunately, is all the time.
All images: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)