Google Upgrades Live View AR Navigation

This is the latest in Localogy’s Skate To Where the Puck is Going series. Running semi-weekly, it examines the moves and motivations of tech giants as leading indicators for where markets are moving. Check out the entire series here, and its origin here

Google has announced several new features to its Live View AR mapping. Before jumping into the updates, what is Live View? As we’ve examined, the 3D mapping feature provides an AR interface for urban walking. This includes big floating arrows seen through your smartphone’s viewfinder to tell you where to go.

The idea is that looking down at a 2D map, then mentally mapping that information (literally) to 3D space is “working hard versus working smart.” Though it’s a classic first-world problem, a common pain point is emerging from a subway station (pre-Covid) and not knowing what street corner you’re on.

There’s also the common pain point of imprecise positioning in any urban canyon. Because GPS signals bounce off buildings, it throws off the calculation of how far you are from the satellite. That’s why the little blue dot is often misplaced by as much as a full city block when you’re trying to navigate downtown.

Live View helps “localize” your device in these scenarios by recognizing buildings. It’s devised a clever hack to resolve GPS shortcomings by tapping into a different sensor: your camera. Utilizing its database of Street View imagery, it applies object recognition to find out where you’re standing, then guides you in 3D.

Google Maps ‘Live View’ Goes Live

Front & Center

With that backdrop, what are Live View’s latest updates? One is simply a matter of positioning. There’s now a Live View launch button in the transit tab in Google Maps. This accommodates the above subway scenario, in addition to bringing more data sets into Live View for multi-mode journeys (train, bus, walk, etc.).

This front & center call-to-action could be important to remind people to use Live View. Though it (and several flavors of mobile AR) are intuitive and compelling, there’s still a certain front-end learning curve and acclimation period. AR is still too early and unproven for regular consumers to put in any work to find it.

Another Live View update is the ability to identify and navigate to/around landmarks. This adds additional graphical elements for popular waypoints like the Empire State Building (see below). This is smart to seed demand for Live View by catering to the prevalent use case of tourist-oriented urban navigation.

Lastly, Live View now has location-sharing functionality. You can share your location in Google Maps (as you could before) with the additional option for the receiver to navigate their way to you using Live View rather than the traditional 2D approach. This could bring an additional viral element to Live View’s growth.

Leading the Pack

The above represents an incremental upgrade, but notable in the forward march of Google’s AR ambitions. There are many moving parts here, all of which trace back to the goal to future proof its core search business, including local. An intuitive visual interface isn’t popular now, but Google wants to lead rather than follow.

Apple is meanwhile gaining ground gradually in mapping. That includes 3D navigation, per its Quick Look that now performs a similar device-localization trick by holding your phone up to scan nearby buildings. It’s part of Apple’s broader mapping reboot, and could represent a key battleground in local’s next era.

Apple Jumps on the 3D-Navigation Train

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