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Google Maps for desktop: hands-on with the world's most-advanced web app

Google Maps for desktop: hands-on with the world's most-advanced web app

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Google I/O this year has a stronger developer focus than in years past, which meant that consumer-facing products sometimes didn't get much airtime during the keynote. That's certainly the case for the new version of Google Maps, available today as an opt-in preview. As we discussed in our early look at Maps, it's a complete redesign from the ground up, with edge-to-edge content and very little UI chrome to get in your way.

We tested Google Maps on a Chromebook Pixel, no slouch when it comes to power. It handled the new vector-based mapping features without any issue, though once we tucked into some fast transitions within the Google Earth features we did detect a little stutter — though differentiating between touchscreen issues and map issues can be difficult. Google says that it has done a lot to speed up Maps, reducing latency and even providing some visual cues like an animated pin to help make the half-second wait for more information less obvious. That Google Earth integration here is cool, but it's not quite as powerful as the standalone app. Even so, it's hard not to consider this the world's most advanced web app; it approaches the speed you'd expect from a native app and it's tied to one of the biggest and most complex data sets you're likely to ever use.

Searching, street view, and all the rest of the traditional Google Maps functions performed as well or better than they did before. It takes a moment to get used to the new Card-based interface, but once you do it's easy to get your directions set up. Those directions are as impressive as we saw in our earlier demo — the ability to quickly switch between driving and mass transit is extraordinarily helpful. More useful still is the new view for detailed transit directions, which manages to pack a ton of information into a single screen without becoming completely confusing.

The maps preview should be rolling out now, you can request an invite at