By Allison Turgeon
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Struggling with a cumbersome paper map is difficult and inconvenient, and then it begins to rain. Google Maps is a user-friendly alternative, a technological tool that can be accessed via a computer or a mobile device, compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems. This app offers users a variety of functions, increasing versatility and convenience. It is an innovative and handy tool that assists users in more than just arriving at their desired destination with great ease.
With Google Maps, users can type or say a street address, a point of interest, or a named location into the search bar. Kapi’olani Community College classmate, Kelsey Hardee, says, “Now that I have a moped, I love the voice option so I can be directed hands free!” Google Maps locates the destiantion on a map. From here, users have the option to seek driving, transit, walking, or biking directions. With multiple routes, users can select the one that is most convenient and meets their needs. After selecting their desired route, the application offers directions to the desired destination or an option to hear turn-by-turn navigation instructions, similar to those of a standalone GPS system. Additional features include satellite imagery, allowing users to access a street-view of the area, a particularly useful function that helps to increase visual familiarity of an area.
A recently added feature allows Google Maps users to explore nearby businesses, including eateries, hotels, malls, and other points of interest. This feature is complete with consumer ratings and reviews, business information such as hours and contact information, and driving, walking, biking, or transit directions to visit the point of interest. According to David Pogue of the NY Times, “Google’s points-of-interest database also excels.” While other apps offer a similar feature, many of them actually access Google Maps to provide location and directions. Google Maps is more effective and convenient since it reduces the number of steps in the process.
Years ago, I relied on my parents as my source of transportation. I would access the desktop version of Google Maps and print the driving directions from our house to the destination. I sat in the front seat, reading the driving directions aloud as my mom or dad drove. At this time, I knew that, for my parents, playing taxi driver was an inconvenience. Appreciative that I did not have to rely on public transit to get from point A to point B, I used Google Maps to simplify the situation, avoiding driving around in circles, causing a potential argument.
Since my sad days without a driver’s license have drifted into the past, I rarely use the desktop version of Google Maps, and, in an effort to malama ‘aina, I almost never print out the driving directions. I rely on the Google Maps mobile app to help me find my way both here in Hawaii and when I travel abroad. One of the best features of the app is that it also offers options to plan a route using public transit systems. Pogue notes, “This feature is brilliantly done.” He goes on to explain that “even if public transportation were all it did, Google Maps would be one of the best apps ever.”
When I lived in Japan, Google Maps was my saving grace. With my limited Japanese language skills and no automobile for transportation, I relied on it to find train and subway directions throughout Japan. I was able to explore my neighborhood, visit various tourist attractions, and travel all the way to different cities with this convenient little tool in my pocket. In addition, the app provided the cost of travel, estimated travel time, and the departure time for the public transit routes, all features that have saved me time, money, and the embarrassment of having to ask a stranger, in broken Japanese, where on Earth I had ended up.
The public transit option has also proven useful in Hawaii. Although our local bus system, better known as TheBus, is said to be one of the better public transit systems in the nation, for me, navigating the system has been difficult and confusing at times. Google Maps gives easy to follow directions on how to catch the bus to your desired location, even incorporating walking instructions. While I am not an avid bus rider, which is probably obvious due to my reliance on the app, I use the app frequently for public transit options in Hawaii. KCC classmate, Scott Miyahira, agrees with its effectiveness for public transit, explaining that he “would even go so far as to say that the transit option on the Google Maps app is more user friendly than DaBus app for travelling by bus.”
Google Maps is compatible with the iOS system despite the existence of Apple Maps, a similar app created by Apple. Kent German discusses the iOS system, stating that “while Apple Maps has admittedly gotten somewhat better over the course of its existence, Google Maps remains the best navigation app available on the device, and it keeps getting better.” German also refers to the application as “the king of maps,” explaining that “Google got it right.” It is clear that Google Maps outshines its competitors based on its design.
I use Google Maps quite often, but even if I did not, knowing that I have the option to use it if I need to gives me great peace of mind. It gives me and its 250 million other active mobile device users the confidence to get to where we need to be, explore new places, and everything in between. Unless you are planning to explore the lands of North Korea, the only country where no Google Maps data exists, I would strongly recommend utilizing this free app for travel and everyday purposes because it’s easy to use, accurate, and convenient. Just do not forget your cell phone.
German, Kent. “Google Maps for IOS Review – CNET.” CNET. 13 Dec. 2012. Web. 21 Sep. 2014.
Pogue, David. “Maps App for IPhone Steers Right.” New York Times. 12 Dec. 2012. Web. 22 Sep. 2014.