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Google Maps redesigns the Explore section to make it easier to find restaurants

Google Maps redesigns the Explore section to make it easier to find restaurants

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Google Maps is getting an update today that’ll make it easier to find recommendations for restaurants and other places to visit. On iOS and Android, you’ll now see a redesigned version of the Explore tab that appears at the bottom of the app when you open it up. The new screen starts off with big buttons that let you dive into categories you might want to know more about — coffee shops, sports bars, live music venues — and continues with lists of popular restaurants, upcoming events, and popular activities, like visiting a museum.

The update also adds a For You tab, which seems a bit like a news feed about local restaurants. The updates Google is showing me for Brooklyn and Manhattan include lists and articles from Eater (which is part of the same network as The Verge), Grub Street, and Time Out, among others.

The app rates how much it thinks you’ll like a restaurant

What seems like it could be more useful, if it works, is that Google will now rate restaurants based on how much it thinks you’ll like them. When you tap on a location, it’ll now say how close of a match you are and will give you some context if you tap in to see more. Since most people don’t rate restaurants on Google Maps (I never have), it has to learn based on what types of restaurants you visit.

The match feature seems to be spot on in some instances (it rated my favorite pizza places as 99 percent and 100 percent matches), but it’s also saying a diner that I don’t really enjoy visiting is an 86 percent match, because Google thinks it’s similar to a Cajun restaurant (not even remotely correct) that I do like. Ratings aren’t appearing for all restaurants either; I’m not sure if that’s just because the feature is new, or if some restaurants just don’t have enough available data.

At launch, some of the features are going to be a bit different between iOS and Android. The recommended events and activities, for instance, aren’t present on iOS. The app’s For You section is also limited to certain countries — the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan — for now.

Google has a lot more in the works for Maps, including augmented reality directions and some social features for deciding on restaurants with friends. The app has always been useful for finding nearby restaurants, but not necessarily for choosing between them and really getting a sense for the options. With today’s update, it seems like Google is moving closer in that direction and building the service out as a competitor to Yelp.