Google Launches Global Refresh Of Google Maps
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Google Launches Global Refresh Of Google Maps

Gordon Kelly

08/23 Update below. This post was originally published on August 20

Right now, Apple is gunning for Google Maps. So far in 2020, the company has radically overhauled Apple Maps, prioritized international expansion and made big Apple Maps upgrades a pillar of iOS 14. Google’s concern is obvious but for those tempted to quit it, Google Maps is now fighting back. 

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In a new blog post, Google Maps product manager Sujoy Banerjee has announced arguably the biggest visual upgrades the service has seen in its 15 year history and they will be coming to 220 countries worldwide. 

08/22 Update: Google is not resting on its laurels. In addition to the complete visual overhaul explained below, the company has now announced Google Maps will map the boundaries of wildfires via satellite data every hour. The system uses satellites from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in conjunction with its own data. Typing the name of an active wildfire in Google Maps, will bring up its boundary, name and location alongside news articles and emergency contact agencies. In order to ensure its accuracy, Google reveals it piloted the feature with emergency services last year, before giving it the go ahead to roll out to consumers. Google Maps already has flood forecasting alerts and recently added earthquake detection.

08/23 Update: Spotted by Justine O'Beirne, Apple has responded to the Google Maps upgrade by now rolling out a new, more detailed version of Apple Maps to the UK and Ireland. These updated maps include detailed buildings, roads, parks and more. In contrast to Google Maps's near-simultaneous global launch, Apple took a year to release its upgraded mapping across the US, but that process has now begun to launch internationally. Canada is expected to follow next with other European countries added thereafter. Apple Maps has made huge strides in the last few years, but it is the company's slower roll out of map upgrades, which is allowing Google Maps to stay ahead - for now.

Google Maps has high-definition satellite imagery for over 98 percent of the world’s population. With a new color-mapping algorithmic technique, we’re able to take this imagery and translate it into an even more comprehensive, vibrant map of an area at global scale,” explains Banerjee. 

The results are startling. Google Maps can now accurately map mountain peaks, ice caps, beaches, vegetation, deserts and more as well as adding far more detail to street maps. Google says the changes will scale “from the biggest metropolitan areas to small, rural towns.”

For large cities (initially London, New York and San Francisco), Google is also upgrading streets to distinguish between crossings, sidewalks and pedestrian islands while the new Google Maps data will even map the shape and width of roads to scale. The implications of this added detail are significant, particularly for anyone in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller. 

Google says this massive Google Maps overhaul will start rolling out worldwide this week. And just like that, Apple Maps has it all to do again.

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I am an experienced freelance technology journalist. I have written for Wired, The Next Web, TrustedReviews, The Guardian and the BBC in addition to Forbes. I began in

I am an experienced freelance technology journalist. I have written for Wired, The Next Web, TrustedReviews, The Guardian and the BBC in addition to Forbes. I began in b2b print journalism covering tech companies at the height of the dot com boom and switched to covering consumer technology as the iPod began to take off. A career highlight for me was being a founding member of TrustedReviews. It started in 2003 and we were repeatedly told websites could not compete with print! Within four years we were purchased by IPC Media (Time Warner's publishing division) to become its flagship tech title. What fascinates me are the machinations of technology's biggest companies. Got a pitch, tip or leak? Contact me on my professional Facebook page. I don't bite.