Whether you live in a big city or are just visiting, finding a specific location can be a little difficult. It can be easy to get turned around right when you get off the subway or train, for example, and the compass in the maps app you’re using may not offer much help. Google’s solution is an integrated augmented reality (AR) mode for walking navigation, to help point the way.
The company first announced the feature at Google I/O 2018, and it’s finally making its way to the Maps app. AR Mode was initially exclusive to Google’s Pixel phones — including the Pixel 3a — but the company has now made it available for any Android phone that supports ARCore and any iPhone that supports ARKit. It’s only available for use outdoors and in areas with recently published Street View images; AR Mode is not available in India; and because the camera is needed to recognize buildings, it will not work in low-light environments. The feature is still in beta.
For a quick primer on augmented reality, it’s when you can see virtual icons and images layered over the real world — think seeing Pokémon in Pokémon Go. In this case, these virtual icons are seen through the Google Maps app, with the help of the camera on the back of your phone.
Google Maps AR navigation was first demoed at Google I/O in 2018, getting a tease in early 2019, but still without a launch date.
Google has just announced the Pixel 3a phones and part of the software on the phone that we reviewed was a preview version of Google Map’s new AR navigation function.
Google Maps AR is designed to let you use augmented reality to help you navigate when walking. What does that mean? It uses the camera on the rear of the phone to identify where you are, superimposing direction and details on the display, rather than just presenting you with a map.
AI identifies what you can see, while the GPS helps put in position on the map. Ultimately, Google Maps AR helps get around that problem of not knowing which way to walk – because the AR can then point in the right direction so you’re heading the right way.
The AR function is easy to find in Google Maps.
Once you hit the button, the AR page will open and the best route will be calculated. The directions will start, with the normal voice instructions.
At this point, Google Maps will then attempt to identify what is around you by scanning what your camera will see and comparing it to Street View imagery. This happens in the top of the screen, while the bottom of the screen has normal walking directions. If you’re pointing the wrong way, Google Maps AR will either show you a huge arrow directing you in a different direction, or you’ll get a small indicator at the edge of the screen. Move your phone around to see what the indicator is alerting you to and off you go.
Google Maps AR will show you road names and distances in AR as well as major turnings to keep you heading the right way. However, to see the AR instructions you need your phone up and pointing at the street in front of you – and you can’t walk like that. You’ll get a warning to put your phone down, if you don’t, Maps will blank out the screen until you do.
If there’s no Google Street View in your area, the AR navigation won’t work.
Having used Google Maps AR on the Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, we’re sure that a preview will be coming to other Google Maps users soon, probably on Pixel devices initially.
Currently, there’s no word on exactly when that’s going to happen.