Maps: a little feature that makes a big difference

My San Francisco, with way too many yellow dots to be useful.

Google Maps has launched a new, smallish feature has been on my list of feature requests for a long time. It consists of giving users more options than a yellow star when saving a place. I love this feature because, as you will see on the right, I save a lot of places. The problem is that saving so many places renders this feature practically useless – who can see the forest for the trees?

Place saving options

Google decided that the new categories to mark special locations, other than a yellow star, are Want to Go and Favorites. Other than those three, users can add their own, custom titles for new categories, called lists.

What I liked:

  1. Different colors for different categories allow users to better identify spots on a map without clicking each one for more information.
  2. Custom lists can save different types of places such as Bakeries, Brunch Spots, Good Hikes, etc. This flexibility is welcome.
  3. There are also three other types of locations with special marks:
    • Events and appointments on the map along with their time and date, which disappear after the event is over.
    • Addresses of select contacts in gray.
    • Spots of interest including photo-worthy tourist stops (marked with a brown camera) and landmarks like museums and important buildings (marked with a brown castle/tower.)
    • Spots that I’ve searched before without saving, though I’m not sure what the criteria for these places are yet.
    • Stores are occasionally marked with a red shopping bag but like other spots, it’s not clear what the rules are for marking them.

All in all, it makes it much easier to see what’s nearby or what’s close to my planned route. That said, I do have a few minor suggestions.

  1. “Want to go” and “Favorites” are two sides of the same coin: the former is before you go, the latter, hopefully, after. Are users supposed to go back and switch the marks after a positive visit? Perhaps Maps can prompt this change after a user has visited the place?
  2. No matter how many extra categories a user defines, they will always be marked with turquoise on the map. This makes the customization useless after one category. Can we have more colors please?
  3. Google can read my appointments from Calendar and email but (understandably) cannot get them from other, non-Google sources such as Slack and Messenger. It would be great to have a way to “send” appointments to Maps.

Finally,  what I love about Maps is that even though it’s extremely efficient in its most basic use case, finding place A and B and getting from one to the other, it never stops adding features that improve the product in different ways for, perhaps, different groups of users. Also, Maps is bucking the trend to spin out features from multi-functional apps into their own standalone app which makes for more efficient interaction but another split moment to decide what app to open. 

Maps is an app I use every day, sometimes several times a day. I rely on it to get places. Any other feature needs to enhance that basic case but also not get in its way. The new place markers do that well.

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One thought on “Maps: a little feature that makes a big difference

  1. My main problem with maps is that.. it is not google earth 🙂
    In GE all of this is not an issue – you can define your kml any way you like, show/hide any subtree, etc..
    what i would like is to have this same ability in maps, before GE is closed forever 😦

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