Thursday, 20 September 2012

Google Maps for Android syncs with your computer, zooms with one finger

Google Maps for Android learned to ride a bike last month, and today it learned two new tricks.

It syncs your routes and searches between your computer and your phone or tablet. If you search for a place on your PC and then search for it again on your phone, your PC searches appear as suggestions in Google Maps for Android. Of course you have log into the same Google accounts on your computer and your phone for this to work, but it may save you a bit of typing on your tiny little phone screen.

Another new trick is one finger zooming. You can still pinch to zoom, and the zoom buttons are still there, but now there's a third way to zoom in and out. Double-tap the map, keep it down on the second tap, and slide up to zoom in, down to zoom out. This is useful if you're right-handed, because the zoom buttons in the bottom right corner make your thumb bend in an uncomfortable way and pinch-to-zoom doesn't work very well if your other hand is busy doing something else. Maybe the new zoom method is in preparation for a new patent clash with Apple? Whatever the reason, the double-tap-and-slide zoom is a useful addition for single handed navigation. It made me go to the settings to switch off the zoom buttons.

Google Maps needs to learn another trick, though. It should have learned it ages ago.

There are plenty of places where mobile internet is slow, expensive, or doesn't exist at all. For example, on the road between two cities in a foreign country where data roaming costs a fortune. These are often the places where you need your maps more than anywhere else, so it's time for Google to fix its offline capabilities. The downloadable map areas are too few and too small, and offline route calculation is still missing. If OpenStreetMap covers your area, OsmAnd gives you free offline navigation that really works offline.

The Google Maps coders could use a few lessons in ergonomics too. Most people are right-handed, which makes the bottom left part of the screen the easiest place to reach with your thumb. This place is now occupied by a scale bar, something that you never touch. Google Maps for phones would work a lot better if the scale bar would move to the top left of the screen (the hardest part to reach if you're right-handed), and the entire top bar (menu, search, layers, position) should move to the bottom. A switch in the settings to reverse the order of the items would make left-handed Android users happy. Google, go add it to your app. Now that I've published the idea here on this site Apple can't patent it anymore :)

Google Maps in the Google Play Store
OsmAnd for true offline navigation

tweet this reddit digg this StumbleUpon digg this digg this


  1. Used it yesterday, since SIL has Data plan with her Android. It took a while to find us when in rural areas in Central Tx, but what I found more frustrating is when I tapped a location I knew to be my parents area, it would offer a popup with an address. But I couldn't long-press the pop to get directions to. I still had to enter in an address into the search bar after I had already tapped on their location, then had to swype in the address, ugh!

  2. That's strange. When I long-press anywhere on a map there's a "directions" button in the popup that always works for me with a single tap.

    I hope you didn't long-press the directions button in the popup, because once the popup has loaded you only need to tap the button.

  3. It was my first time to fully use Google Maps away from home, so it's possible I didn't get my taps/LPresses in the right order.