Most people have experienced augmented reality (AR) on two very different ends of the spectrum. Many have played AR games on their phones, and some have used AR in professional settings, but there aren't that many options in between. Google's current testing of AR in Google Maps should help bridge that gap by offering an AR feature that can come in handy in everyday life.
Google announced the feature at its I/O developer conference in May 2018. Now, the company's finally released a trial version to select testers--read: members of the tech press, like the Wall Street Journal, who it wants to remind consumers that this feature will exist, and "Local Guides," a community of users who share tips, photos and new places on Google Maps. It's said to be about as good as you'd expect Google Maps in AR to be.
Here's how it works. People who search for walking directions in Google Maps will see a new "Start AR" option. The app will then ask them to look around with their phones, work to recognize some landmarks and then use AR to help navigate, by layering AR arrows and a map in front of what your phone's camera sees. It can also point out places of interest, like landmarks and restaurants.
That might not be as much fun as catching Pokemon in Pokemon Go, but it should be more useful. GPS is often spotty when it comes to walking directions because it can't quite figure out where you are with all the obstructions in the way. Combining that good-but-not-great data with landmarks might help.
Google is essentially laying the groundwork for a new method of navigation with this feature. It's not hard to imagine people constantly using Google Maps in AR, or at least a similar tool, every time they need to walk somewhere they don't know very well. Especially if AR glasses truly are the future. The Wall Street Journal claims that the feature may end up on AR smartglasses down the line.
Google hasn't announced a release date for the feature's debut to the general public.
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Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.