Google Maps AR Is Being Tested by Some Users – But the Rest of Us Will Have to Wait

By Catie Keck on at

Last year, Google I/O gave us a glimpse of what augmented reality in Maps might look like, teasing a future in which our phones orient us using our cameras. The demonstration showed us improved navigation tools to properly direct users as well as pop-ups indicating surrounding businesses and shops. There was even a bouncy fox guide.

It looks like the Wall Street Journal was able to demo what it said is “an early version” of Maps with AR. The feature doesn’t look too different from the one Google previewed for developers last May, with Maps appearing on the lower half of the phone’s screen as the top half navigates the user’s real-world surroundings. With some minor tweaks, even the blinking arrow system used to steer users to turn looks similar to those from Google’s presentation.

But the Journal’s David Pierce did note a couple of neat details about this demo version of the feature. For example, once the AR version of Maps had oriented itself based on surrounding landmarks and pointed him in the right direction, he was prompted to put his phone down while walking to avoid smacking into poor, unsuspecting passersby. It’s probably for that exact reason that Rachel Inman, a UX design lead at Google, told the Journal that the app should be used more “for those moments like, ‘I’m getting off the subway, where do I go first?’”

I am, however, very sad to report that there was no adorable fox guide in footage of the Journal taking the app for a spin. When the tech giant teased the feature during I/O, Google’s Aparna Chennapragada noted that the project’s team was “playing with the idea” of adding digital guides. According to the Journal, one version of the app had “an adorable animated guide named Pizza Man, but he made users look at their phone too long.” So it’s not clear whether we can expect animals or pizza people guiding us through our world in the future.

The Journal said that while the AR version of Maps is being tested by a small, select group, the feature isn’t going to see an official release anytime soon. It could also change quite a bit before then. We’ve reached out to Google for more information about the feature and will update this post when we hear back. [Wall Street Journal]