Google has made significant changes to the look and function of its Google Maps, which now uses the whole screen and ditches the service’s familiar sidebar.
The information that Google used to host on its sidebar is now more deeply integrated into maps, or right below the search bar that is now in the upper left-hand corner of the map.
The service has not yet rolled out to the general public, though the company has started offering limited invitations for people who want to give the new layout a try.
The new layout also incorporates more social information into the maps, giving users the ability to consult business reviews from people within their Google+ friend circles.
More parts of Google’s maps are also interactive. For example, if a user searches for a specific Chinese restaurant, information such as the restaurant’s address, phone number, Web site, reviews and a link to directions could appear in a small pane of information that drops down from the search bar.
Google is also integrating information from its other services into map, saying that folding in data from Google+ and other services will improve maps for users over time.
For example, the company said that it will look for types of restaurants that users like or the routes they take most often and then combine that data to offer suggestions.
The company also offered smaller features meant to improve the Maps interface, such as a menu that allows users to compare transit times between multiple modes of transit, such as walking, biking, driving or taking public transportation.
Google is also embedding more of its Google Earth technology into Maps, allowing users to zoom in on cities and even inside buildings to get a better handle on where they’re going. And, if you’re more interested in zooming out, Google will let you do that, too.
Onstage, Google executives showed that the new Maps interface lets you zoom all the way out to the planet level — a view that includes real-time images of where the clouds are.
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