Since the arrival of the iPhone and its "Maps" app in 2007, drivers have had a growing number of choices for navigation, beyond the usual in-dash and aftermarket systems. Now, there's another one to consider: Google Maps.
"But wait," you say, "doesn't Google Maps already offer navigation services? Isn't that the whole point of Google Maps?"
Well, yes. But yesterday, Google added something new to the mix, something that's been strangely absent from Maps: real-time traffic.
As Mashable points out, traffic data had been part of the "directions" feature on Google Maps until last summer, but that data was historic, not delivered in real-time. So, for example, if you looked up directions to your local airport, you would see two estimates of travel time: one for smooth-flowing traffic, and the other a worst-case scenario based on traffic problems that have typically plagued the area.
Now, if you ask Google Maps for directions, it will still provide a best-case scenario, but underneath, you'll find an estimate of your travel time, based on current conditions.
According to Mashable, data on those current conditions is collected from third-party services and from data provided by Google Maps users in the area (though Google's official blog post mentions nothing about third-party providers like INRIX). It sounds as if Google Maps has become a bit like Waze, an app that passively collects data from users to gauge how quickly folks are moving across the roads. Which is just fine in our book -- Waze has gotten us out of more than one traffic jam over the years.
The only downside may be that, in order for Google to get its user-generated data, those users have to (a) be using an Android device, and (b) opt in to location-sharing on Google Maps. That means that -- for now, at least -- the number of users may be on the small side, so traffic data may not be entirely accurate.
Still, it's a start, and a welcome one. We're a little surprised that it took Google so long to get around to this -- but then, the company has had more exciting things on its mind.