Save for an optional feature of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has yet to have the kind of impact that many analysts and developers seem to have expected. Conceptually, AR is fascinating — capable of turning your surroundings into an interactive computer screen. But in practice, we’ve yet to see a killer app that truly delivers on the promise of the technology. Thanks to Google, though, we might be one step closer to getting there.
Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal’s David Pierce shared his thoughts on an upcoming AR navigation feature for Google Maps, which the company announced at Google I/O last May. He doesn’t think it will replace the standard navigation functionality, but he came away impressed with the “early version” he tested.
Like other augmented reality experiences, the Google Maps AR feature uses your phone’s camera to overlay visual effects on top of the real world as you walk from one location to the next. Rather than staring down at your phone and following a dotted line, you will point your phone outward in the direction you’re facing, and 3D arrows will suddenly appear on the street in front of you, guiding you to your destination. Pierce says that the arrows on his app pointed to his right, and once he took a turn, a rectangular blue sign popped up on the screen letting him know his next turn was coming up in 249 feet. More arrows appeared when he reached the corner.
“I found the AR feature most useful at the beginning of a journey,” Pierce explained. “Usually when I’m heading somewhere new, I pick a direction, start walking then check the blue dot halfway down the block to see if I’m going the right way. Often I am not. With Google’s AR view, I could fire up the camera, check my surroundings and set off with much more confidence.”
It’s worth noting that the feature isn’t ready to roll out to the public quite yet. Google’s Rachel Inman told Pierce that virtually everything he saw during his time with the app could change, from the look of the giant, floating arrows to the use of arrows at all. But Google will be receiving feedback from the community, as the early version of the AR feature will soon be put in the hands of Google Maps power users called Local Guides.