A Dangerous Change To Google Maps

by @edent | # # # # # # | 15 comments | Read ~3,213 times.

Update 2013-07-13

I've just received this email from Nate Tyler at Google.

Hope you're enjoying the weekend. I work on the Google Maps team and just saw your post on Google Maps navigation. Thank you very much for the concern. Wanted to be sure you and your readers are aware that we have pushed an update to the latest release of Maps for Mobile to fix this issue. If there's any chance to update your story with this information we would very much appreciate that. And if you have any questions please feel free to email me back.

A quick drive around my neighbourhood confirms that the update (7.0.1) has fixed the roundabout issue. Well done Google for a swift resolution.
Fixed Google Maps

Round and Round and Round We Go

A lot of ink has been spilled over the sudden and unwelcome removal of useful features from the new Google Maps. The lack of easy offline support, and the brutal removal of Latitude are deeply annoying. Worryingly, I think there has been a substantial change which is potentially very dangerous for drivers relying on Google Maps for navigation.

One of the core principles of usability is that in high stress situations, information should be available at a glance. When the user only has a fraction of a second to glance at the display - the most relevant information must be displayed in a simple, predictable, and accurate manner.

Now, take a look at this screenshot of the driving directions Google Maps gave me.

Google Maps Roundabout-fs8

The top bar is designed for glancing at. A quick flick of my eyes tells me to turn left on to Oriental Road.

If I spend longer looking at the screen - and take my eyes away from the road for more time - I'll see that I need to turn right.

Which is it? I now have two conflicting pieces of information. It is probably correct to follow the blue line. This interface is now ambiguous, which means I have to spend more time figuring out which aspect of the UI to trust, and less time concentrating on the road.

We've all driven in stressful situations - how much more stressful would it be if you suddenly found out your map was lying to you?

This isn't an isolated incident. Yesterday, I noticed the discrepancy on both major and minor roads.

I've trusted Google Maps to get me to job interviews on time, to drive through unfamiliar cities in foreign countries, and stop me driving the wrong way late at night.

It is irresponsible to have your user interface contradict itself - worse than that, in the case of apps designed to be used a 70MPH it's potentially very dangerous.

15 thoughts on “A Dangerous Change To Google Maps

  1. artesea says:

    It's always done that. It appears to only have one icon to highlight roundabout ahead. No idea why as knowing that right at the roundabout in 2 miles helps me prepare.

    1. Hi Ryan,
      There are multiple roundabout graphics - although many seem to point the wrong way!
      Google Maps Arrows
      I'm sure the old version of Google Maps didn't have this flaw.
      T

      1. artesea says:

        I did have a screenshot stored on my phone to do a blog post which I never got around to doing, but lost everything on a firmware upgrade. Pretty sure it always pointed straight on in the previous versions.

      2. artesea says:

        Rolled back and ran a route. All roundabouts were straight on which I suppose isn't as bad as random icon which isn't the direction you need.

        1. Ah! You beat me to it 🙂
          Yes, previously one graphic for all - now it's just plain confusing. Wonder if it's because they don't have roundabouts in the USA?
          Google Roundabouts.

          1. We do have roundabout in the USA. In my hometown (Dublin, OH) there are at least 5 within 5 miles of my house and where I live now (Lexington, KY) there is one right outside my neighborhood.

  2. Martin says:

    In a "stressful situation" you should not be looking at your mobile at all, navigation or not.

    1. I disagree. In a stressful situation, it can be enormously calming to know exactly where you're going and what turns you need to make. I don't think flicking your eyes to a SatNav is any more dangerous than checking your speed or your mirrors.

      1. Martin says:

        I think the most calming aspect is: it does not really matter if you are taking the right or wrong turn ;-). The nav can cope with it. This is much better than the old paper based navigation where you felt lost once you strayed from the planned path.

        Under stress, drive where you feel safe. Worry about the route once the stress is gone.

        I have never seen any nav that did not have its ideosyncrasic moments.

  3. John says:

    I think the top bar is right - you were clearly headed for the nursing home (lol). Seriously, I use Waze all the time now, and have forgotten about Google Maps except for Satellite Layer Views.
    All SatNavs talk about 1st, 2nd, 3rd exit etc, whereas its often good enough to know 'straight ahead' (i.e. stay on the road you are on). They should also do more to say 'where' you are heading... e.g. "take the x turning, the A1 heading to York" to tally with the road signage.

    1. artesea says:

      Google are pretty good at doing that. More often than not the instruction matches word for word as the relevant street sign. (Just a shame the text-to-speech can't cope with most english place names).

  4. Ian Ross says:

    I'm from the UK and have been using offline maps whilst on holiday in France. Where there are several lanes on the approach it's crucial to know well in advance which lane to take. A quick check of the icon should at least give some idea, without the need to take your eyes off the road to look hard at the map. I had an old sat nav that provided this together with an exit number about seven years ago. It's not rocket science and if the spoken instructions can tell you then all it takes is an icon to match - very easy stuff. As for the recent changes, someone should be taken to task. It's NEVER acceptable to remove functionality without prior warning. People plan around what they know and expect, and if they can't they will turn to something else they can trust. It's about time Google had learned this, or are they becoming to big not to care?

  5. Tom Morris says:

    If only there were some kind of alternative...

    1. The OSM navigation tools haven't been that great - especially over long distances. But I'll certainly give them another shot.

  6. Ian Ross says:

    Credit where it's due, thanks for the quick fix Google... Excellent stuff
    Cheers!

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