My primary navigation app is Waze owned by Google. It is free, accurate, and I particularly like the crowdsourced real-time road information.
And, I know many people who swear by Google Maps. It is also free, and accurate and, as I’ve discovered, has a few hidden tricks that just might make me consider using it again.
Following are a few handy things you might not have known that Google Maps can do for you.
Google Maps includes several compelling features and shortcuts that will save you time.
1. A Completely Hands-Free Mode
You know better than most people that distracted driving is a huge issue that can lead to significant accidents. You have likely been as guilty as I have of glancing down at your device while driving. If you have an Android phone, Google Maps has a series of voice commands you can use whenever you are behind the wheel.
Just say “Okay, Google” and then try variations on these examples:
- “What’s my next turn?”
- “Avoid tolls”
- “What’s my ETA?”
- “What road is this?”
- “How’s traffic ahead?”
- “How’s traffic to work?”
- “Avoid highways”
- “Navigate home”
- “Find restaurants”
- “Take me to Wendy’s”
- “What’s the closest gas station?”
- “Exit navigation”
Remember, saying “Okay, Google” will also allow you to make calls, send a text, play music, or check your calendar without needing to take your eyes off the road. If you have an iPhone, similar capabilities are available by saying, “Hey, Siri.”
2. Share Your Location in Real-Time
Google Maps allows you to share your real-time location with others. To enable, open Maps on your phone. When you tap the blue dot and select “share your location,” you can let others see your location as you travel. You can choose any of your contacts or get a web link to send them. You can set the end time for this location sharing setting.
When someone opens the link, he or she will be able to see your current position on a map as you move — either in their maps app or a regular browser window.
3. Google Maps Street View
Google Street view is a great tool to make sure you know where you’re headed. Street View is viewable on Google Maps if it is available for a specific place. It’s a nice feature (that I have used) for quickly seeing what else is in the area around your location.
What to do:
- Tap and hold on a location and a pin will be dropped. Then, touch the location name at the bottom to view options for it.
- In the options tap, the Street View thumbnail image of the location and Street View will open up. You can drag to move around in the Street View.
4. Search for Businesses
A business search is available in Maps, even when you are not navigating. To find a certain type of business near your current location, tap the search bar at the top of the mobile app. You can try variations on these searches:
- “Restaurants near here”
- “Pharmacies near 5th and Main Street”
- “Sushi restaurants near me”
- “Gas stations near the airport”
- “Things to do near Franklin”
Google Maps can help you find practically anything, anywhere. You can also browse to see what’s near your current location by opening Maps on your phone, and then scroll and swipe through the Explore tab at the bottom of the screen.
5. Send a Map Directly to Your Phone
The next time you are looking up directions on your desktop, save yourself a step and send them directly to your mobile device.
See the screenshot included. You merely need to click on the option “send directions to your phone.” A list of devices associated with your Google account will be displayed. Android devices should show up automatically, while iPhones will require you to first install and sign into the Maps app and then enable notifications within the app’s settings.
The Maps info will show up as a text notification seconds after you send it over from your desktop. Tap the link, and the App will open with your route already added.
6. Get Real-Time Traffic Updates
Waze allows users to update traffic conditions in real-time. This information is shared with Google Maps and is used to update traffic information for both platforms.
You can also get an estimation of the time it will take to get to your destination. At the bottom of the box where you typed the address, you will “Leave now.” Click the down arrow next to that, select either “Depart at” or “Arrive by” to see the estimated total trip time for any specific day and time.
Maps’ traffic estimation tool will help you figure out how much time you need to leave for a drive, even if you are not leaving right away.
7. Measure Distance Between Multiple Points
Do you want to know exactly how far you have to travel on a particular trip? Google Maps can precisely measure the distance between two or more points, all the way down to the second decimal.
On the phone app, tap and hold your starting point. A red pin will appear along with a white bar showing more info about the location. Swipe up on the bar and choose the “Measure distance” option. Next, use your finger and the blue plus icon to find and select the second point. You can repeat this process as many times as needed to measure the full path.
Maps’ distance-measuring feature makes it easy to figure out the precise distance between any number of points.
On a computer, right-click on your starting point and select “Measure distance” from the menu that appears, then click on each subsequent point in your path to get measurements. This might also be an interesting tool to use to measure the distance to a fire station or body of water.
8. Use Advanced Gestures
Pinching to zoom is a standard feature on most phones today. Google Maps has several useful gestures to help you get around the app on your mobile device. Try these out (when you’re not driving!):
- Zoom in or out of a Map by using a single finger to double-tap and—without lifting your finger—slide up or down on the screen.
- Placing your index finger and thumb on the screen and then twisting them together will spin a map around to change your orientation.
- Save a step the next time you’re ready to navigate. After you select a location, press and hold the blue “Directions” button at the bottom of the screen to immediately be taken to navigation mode. Google will use its best guess for the route and type of transportation you’re likely to use.
Maps and navigation are another powerful features that make our smartphones indispensable devices. What tips and tricks have you used to maximize your use of navigation and map apps?