Google Maps does a lot more than show you the way from where you are to where you want to go.
So much so, that I use Google Maps almost everywhere I go – even if I know the way.
When you “know the way” to a destination, you often take that route without consideration for other factors – including time of day and traffic.
This can lead to you taking much longer than necessary on your trip, as your favourite route may be congested, for example.
Another issue with taking a route you have been using for years without consulting Google Maps is that this does not take road or infrastructure developments into account. Your route may be longer or slower than new alternatives.
This is particularly relevant if you are travelling for work and need to ensure you get to meetings on time.
For example, while driving from Midrand to Fourways normally sees you take the William Nicol off-ramp, on a Friday at 14:30 it is actually quicker to take the Rivonia off-ramp and drive through a few neighbourhoods.
Google Maps does not deal in comfort and familiarity, it deals in pure numbers – letting you know whether route A is faster than route B.
Google Maps takes this a step further after you have selected your route by providing real-time updates as your drive.
If there is congestion at an intersection, it will let you know there is a delay, but that you are still on the fastest route. If your chosen route takes a turn for the worse, it will advise you to take a different path.
In recent updates, Google has enhanced Maps’ functionality further by adding two new features.
The first is speed trap warnings.
This feature is possible thanks to a combination of feedback from users and authoritative feeds to pinpoint the location of speed cameras.
When you are driving and a speed trap is coming up, Google Maps will display a speed trap icon on your device’s screen and provide an audible warning.
The second is real-time speed measurements, based on GPS tracking. It provides a speedometer on the bottom-left corner of the app, and will provide audible warnings when you are speeding.
Other cool features in Google Maps include a “save your parking” option. When you have arrived at your destination and parked, you can tap on the blue dot in Maps – which is your current location – and select “Set as parking location”.
When you are ready to leave, you can access the location and be guided to your vehicle.
As with many smart solutions, however, there are elements which are not catered for in the South African market.
The big one is crime hotspots. Certain routes, particularly at night, may be quicker but may put drivers at risk. Google Maps will not inform you that an above-average number of hijackings take place in a certain area – or that criminals throw rocks off bridges along sections of certain highways.
Another issue is that, according to research referenced by the University of Southern California, using apps like Google Maps damages your “wayfinding” abilities.
This means that users typically do not remember how they got to their destination when using a maps app, and could not repeat their journey without the app.
The use of navigation apps can also have a long-term impact on your ability to “find your way” – thanks to constant disengagement from the environment as you travel.
Using Google Maps for every trip in complete isolation is therefore not a good thing, but in combination with awareness of your surroundings and potential threats, it can save you a lot of time on the road.