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Google Maps is getting a big accessibility update, but only on iPhone for now

Published Oct 18th, 2023 5:13PM EDT
New Google accessibility features for Google Maps, Camera, and Assistant.
Image: Google

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Just the other day, we talked about how unusual it is for the iPhone version of Google Maps to get new features before the Android version. Google did it with the weather information, and it’s about to do it again with a brand new accessibility feature for Google Maps.

iPhone users who are blind or suffer from vision impairments will be able to use Lens in Google Maps to orient themselves. That’s just one of the new accessibility features coming to Google Maps in the near future.

Google announced several new accessibility features for its products, including Google Maps. Google has been rolling out new features for Maps regularly, and I’m always amazed by them. I think making navigation apps more accessible to people with disabilities should be a priority for tech companies like Google.

The new Lens feature in Maps (known before as “Search with Live View”) relies on artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) to help people suffering from vision issues get around. Google Maps uses the handset’s camera to capture information. Then, the screen reader feature will inform users about their surroundings.

Google Maps will describe the nearby attractions by interpreting the images seen by the camera. The app will recognize ATMs, restaurants, transit stations, and other places of interest. Moreover, it’ll offer names and category information for these spots and information about the distance to them.

This feature should complement a different Google Maps accessibility feature that Google launched a few years ago to help blind and low-vision people navigate their surroundings. Detailed voice guidance lets visually impaired smartphone owners use Google Maps to navigate to their destination. The new Lens in Maps search feature lets you orient yourself no matter where you might be.

The new feature will be available on iPhone this week, with Android users getting it later this year.

Google Maps will let businesses self-identify as members of various communities.
Google Maps will let businesses self-identify as members of various communities. Image source: Google

Google also introduced a few other accessibility features for Google Maps this week. The new update will let businesses self-identify as a member of a specific community, as seen in the image above.

The new Google update also brings accessible walking routes to Maps that are wheelchair-friendly. You can use the functionality to avoid stairs along the way while using navigation for walking. Maybe climbing several flights of stairs each day is difficult, or you’re carrying large strollers. Whatever the case, Google Maps should find a better route.

Also, Google will let users customize Assistant Routines with larger icons, which can include Google Maps-related shortcuts.

Finally, Google Maps for Android Auto and cars with Google built-in will display wheelchair-accessible places, just like Google Maps for Android and iPhone does.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.