Google Maps AR, in action. [credit:
The Wall Street Journal
If you remember, in May 2018, Google showed off an augmented reality version of Google Maps during the Google I/O 2018 keynote. The feature was only described as a "what if" experiment and "How [augmented reality] could look in Google Maps"—it wasn't given a firm release date. Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal got to try a real working version of this concept, and, while there still isn't a release date, it sounds like Augmented Reality Google Maps is moving from "What if?" to an actual product.
The Journal was given a Google Pixel 3 XL with an "alpha" version of Google Maps to test. Just like what was shown at Google I/O, the new feature augmented the 2D, GPS-and-compass-powered map system with a 3D, augmented reality camera overlay and a camera-based positioning system. Basically, you hold your phone up, and it displays a camera feed with directions overlaid over it.
The feature seemed aimed at solving a lot of pain points that pop up when using Google Maps in a big city. The densely packed points-of-interest means GPS isn't really accurate enough for getting around, especially when you consider GPS doesn't work well indoors, or underground, or when you're surrounded by tall buildings, and it can take several minutes to reach full accuracy when stepping outside. Smartphone compasses are also, generally, terrible when you are standing still and need to figure out which direction to start walking.