Google unveils new look for Maps


Google’s maps program has more or less become the standard for people trying to get from point A to point B in the Internet age. But the company is making drastic changes to the service’s familiar layout and pulling in more information from other Google services. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Google offered users a peek at the future of its Maps service Wednesday, announcing that it is giving the widely-used service a complete makeover, including bigger maps and more interactive features.

The company’s maps program has more or less become the standard for people trying to get from point A to point B in the Internet age. But the company is making drastic changes to the service’s familiar layout and pulling in more information from other Google services.

The Maps makeover was one of several products that Google unveiled to developers in San Francisco at its annual conference, Google I/O, which the company live-streamed on its YouTube video service. Google executives said an updated version of Google’s search service would have more advanced voice-recognition technology. It also announced plans for an online music service similar to Spotify, which costs about $10 a month and allows users to play music on demand.

The changes to the Maps program, however, were the most notable of the conference’s first day. The new program will show users the ratings that their friends on Google’s social network, Google+, have given to restaurants in the direction results and easy-to-see estimates of how long a trip might take by car, train or bike.

Google’s maps also will be more interactive. For example, if a user searches for a specific Chinese restaurant, its address, phone number, Web site, reviews and a link to the directions will appear in the search results. Google also has integrated more of the images it has collected for Google Earth into the maps program, combining them with images from Street View, which includes peeks inside buildings as well.

Google Maps hasn’t changed yet, but Google said it will allow some users to test Maps’ new features.

Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, surprised convention attendees by speaking at the conference just a day after he disclosed that he has a vocal cord condition that has made it difficult for him to speak. Although his voice was soft and raspy, Page spoke and fielded questions from the audience for nearly an hour.

His wide-ranging discussion even touched briefly on the tension between Silicon Valley and Washington. Page said regulators have trouble keeping up with technological change, but that companies also must adapt their technology to consumer concerns.

“Old institutions, like the law, aren’t keeping up with the rate of change we cause with this technology,” he said. “We need to be honest that we don’t always know the impact of changes, and we should be humble about that.”

Google stock jumped above $900 for the first time in the hours before the conference began, and closed up 3.25 percent Wednesday at $915.89 a share.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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