25 December 2010

Google Maps experiments with new controls

While most of the world was busy celebrating Christmas, Maps quietly started an experiment on the web interface, adding a new way to switch between the views and several layers available. For now, I only see the updated controls in the Chrome Canary build and beta 4, but curiously not in the stable version of Chrome, making me assume they rely on some HTML5 features not supported in the stable channel yet. Being logged in with a Google account seems to make no difference.

Replacing the buttons in the upper right corner, the new interface combines the main views, ‘Map’, ‘Satellite’ and ‘Earth’, in a single square control accompanied by a collapsed menu below. Hovering over this tile unfolds the ‘Earth’ option to the left and expands the menu to show the available layers – like ‘Transit’, ‘Photos’ and ‘Terrain’ – for the selected view. A nice touch is how the menu updates dynamically to reflect the selected view and location, as not all functions are available in all areas. The frequently used layers are shown right away, while the rest, including the unavailable options, are grouped under a small ‘more’ link.

Experimental user interface in Google Maps

The new interface is more compact and visually appealing and steps away from the usual Google tradition of building text-only interfaces. Not only do the three main tiles contain pictures to suggest their purpose, but also hovering the menu items reveals tool tips with icons that help identify their function visually. The same tool tips show short explanations why layers are disabled – for example ‘Terrain’ is incompatible with ‘Satellite’ view. It differentiates Google Maps from the competitors as well, because Bing and Yahoo! haven’t updated the controls in a while. Hopefully it will be rolled out to more browsers soon.

1 comment:

  1. I love terrain addon, last time I missed the road couse I didn't know that it goes uphill. Hope it will be more obvious from now on.