Google Maps – Holiday Updates

As many thousands of us start to move about for the Holiday Season in the northern and southern hemispheres, Google Maps has released a number of updates across iOS and Android to help us stay informed and safe as we continue to live with COVID-19.

Dane Glasgow, VP of Product, Google Maps remarked, “We’ve all felt in our own lives how much COVID-19 has changed the way we live, where we shop or eat, and how we move around in the world. We’ve seen that shift reflected in usage of Google Maps and this tidal wave of change has tested our systems in completely new ways. Creating a map is hard — what’s even harder is keeping it continuously updated… but that’s also what makes a map useful these days, and what our users expect.

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve added nearly 250 new features and improvements to Google Maps to help users adapt to this new normal.

In early 2020, as many cities went into lockdown, we saw traffic on roads around the world decrease by up to 50%. While driving patterns have since started to recover, we’re also seeing a lot more people turn to two wheels as a way to maintain social distancing while getting around, with cycling and two-wheel (motorcycles, mopeds) usage growing by more than 25% year over year.”

COVID-19 Layer Updates

Currently, if you tap the Layers button in Google Maps you can see information at National and State levels as to the current trend for COVID-19 cases on a per 100,000 people level.

In the coming weeks two key improvements are coming. The updated COVID layer on Android and iOS will soon show more information, including all-time detected cases in an area, along with quick links to COVID resources from local authorities. This is especially handy if you’re heading out of town and need to get up to speed about the local guidelines, testing sites and restrictions in another city.

To access the COVID-19 layer in Google Maps, tap the layer button in the top right-hand corner of the map view, and then tap the COVID-19 Info layer.

Public Transport Information Updates

Here in Australia we take our public transport very seriously and thanks to significant investment in on-platform technology as well as smarts in rolling stock such as trains and buses, we can see how crowed a service is long before we get to the train station or bus stop.

Google Maps now integrates this information on a real-time basis and also allows user-feedback to indicate the ‘crowdedness‘ of a stop or an individual service by asking questions such as, “What’s it like on board?”

Google Assistant – Eyes on the road

We are all going to spend more time on the road this holiday season as international and state borders remain closed.

Thanks to the new driving-friendly Google Assistant interface, you can easily get more done while keeping your focus on the road. Use voice to send and receive calls and texts, quickly review new messages across your messaging apps in one place, and get a read-out of your texts so you don’t need to look down at your phone—Assistant will even alert you to an incoming call so you can answer or decline with voice.

You can also play media from hundreds of providers around the globe, including YouTube Music, Spotify, Google Podcasts and many more.

Driving mode makes all of this possible without ever leaving the navigation screen, so you can minimize distractions on the road.

To get started with driving mode, begin navigating to a destination with Google Maps and tap on the pop up to get started. Or, head to Assistant settings on your Android phone or say “Hey Google, open Assistant settings.” Then select “Getting around,” choose “Driving mode” and turn it on.

Google are starting to roll out an early preview of the improved experience to Android users in English in the U.S.—with more features coming soon.

As we wrote about earlier in the year as Google Maps celebrated its 15th Birthday, we described how Google ensures that information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, by relying on 170 billion high-definition Street View images from 87 countries, contributions from hundreds of millions of businesses and people using Google Maps, and authoritative data from more than 10,000 local governments, transit agencies and organisations.

Google also invests in technical approaches that power some of our most beloved and essential features—from the 20 million places globally that now show popular times data to AR-powered Live View.

Even in a pandemic, more than 1 billion people still turn to Google Maps to navigate their new normal—and our work is far from done. We’re continually working to build new features and services to help all of us emerge from this challenging time stronger than ever. So whatever your plans are this holiday season and no matter how much they’ve changed, Google Maps can make them easier and safer for you.

About Author
Mike is the Australian editor of with a lifelong passion for cars, technology and engineering. He reviews and writes about all kinds of motoring and tech products for our readers. Follow Mike on Instagram or send him an email: