Voice in Google Maps

Google Maps is receiving an update to version 8.2 today, with a solid set of new features including in-navigation voice control, elevation change information for bicyclists and faster access to voice input from the main maps screen. The biggest change in this latest version is the ability to give Google Maps voice controls while you're navigating, something that hands-free driving advocates (and just frequent drivers) will be a fan of. While navigating you'll now see a small microphone button in the bottom left corner of the interface, which you can tap and then give commands to the phone with.

We've found a few different actions you can take:

  • How is traffic ahead?
  • Show route overview
  • What's my next turn?
  • Show alternate routes
  • When will I get there?
  • What is my next turn?
  • Navigate to [place]

After playing around with it the system doesn't seem too terribly smart just yet — for example you can't say "hide traffic" to remove the traffic display, or make other seemingly-natural language requests that deviate from the scripted queries. There also doesn't seem to be a completely hands-free wakeup phrase such as "OK, Google" that we're all used to. For now you're tapping the on-screen button, but that's miles ahead of performing several taps just to see what's coming up on the map.

Moving beyond navigation, there are also a few more tweaks. For those who use Google Maps for bicycling routes, you'll now see an overview of elevation for different routes when looking for directions. You'll get an elevation map that shows the ups and downs, along with how many feet the elevation change is. You can also compare different navigation routes based on their elevation.

In the general interface, you'll also notice an improvement to the way you can access voice control. The area to the right of the search bar, which used to have an icon to get to your profile, now has a voice control microphone (the "Your places" area can be found in the slide-in drawer instead). You can tap it to perform regular searches, but we found you can also say "show traffic" and "show satellite" to get both of those map actions to happen with just your voice. Sadly "show bicycling" and "show public transit" don't seem to work — again showing how primitive this first shot at in-map voice actions really are.

This is a pretty huge update to Maps that will undoubtedly ease some commute frustration for many people after they install it. You can grab the latest version from the Play Store link at the top of this post.