Google Maps as newly redesigned at the 2013 I/O developers conference in San Francisco. (Photo : Google)
Update: The folks over at AndroidPolice have found out that you can try out the new Google Maps using Chrome, just by editing one cookie. Here's how to do it. On Chrome, download this cookie editing extension called "Edit this Cookie."
Once you've got it (it's a cookie icon in the top right-hand corner), go to maps.google.com, ignore the "Get New Google Maps" on the left-hand side, and instead click the cookie icon. A drop down menu will appear, listing the cookies that the page is using. Click on the cookie marked "NID" and copy/paste to replace the "value" with the following:
It should look something like this when you're done.
Finally, press "submit cookie changes" and reload the page. Voila! Youv'e got the new Google Maps. Now here's a preview of what the new Maps have to offer. (via MobileMag)
Changing something as ubiquitous and routinely used as Maps can be risky - like suddenly replacing the water in a fish tank. Luckily, so far it doesn't seem too drastic of a change. First, the new Google Maps is going for a more minimal interface, with more features integrated into the map itself or otherwise discreetly tucked away in the corners of your screen.
The first thing you notice in the new Maps is that automobile traffic, mass transit and bicycle paths are immediately available when you mouse-over the search bar. Traffic is live-updating with a minimal key in the corner reminding you that green is good and red is bad.
Bike routes are divided between trails (marked in dark green), dedicated lanes (in brighter green) and dotted green lines to indicate "bicycle friendly" roads (though in the Loop, for example, that may be a relative term).
Transit information looks to be wonderfully useful, as train routes are displayed with their original colors and stations are clearly marked. Unfortunately, bus routes are missing, though it's probably because including them would clutter up the map too much.
Mousing over a station will give you a color-coded list of all the lines that run through that station. Click on a station, and the transit feature becomes even more useful, giving you a list of lines, a link to more information, and in the cases of major train stations, departure times from that station. The old Google Maps had train times for subway stations, but currently in the new Google Maps, if you choose a station with too many lines, times won't show up. This may be a strategy to try to avoid too much information taking over the screen, but it would be nice if you could get that kind of information for all stations.
The new Google Maps makes it easier to find things like restaurants with a category search, which is integrated with their Zagat review information into informative "cards." For example, search for "pizza, Chicago" and pizza places will pop onto the map, with the best-reviewed locations most prominent.
Click on one of those, and its card appears right under your search---providing photos, directions, URLs and other useful things.
Besides Zagat reviews, the new Google Maps will also feature a "Your Circles" option, where users can perform a social search by reviews within only Google+ circles. Also pictured below, ads related to your search pop up from time to time, though, thankfully, they don't seem to take up too much of the screen.
At the bottom, you can switch to satellite mode and also use the "explore" option to bring up Street View photos for a little visual tour of the location you're looking at. Google has promised to add 3D Google Earth features to Maps, but it's not available yet in their preview and, anyway, it's currently experiencing some image distortion issues similar to Apple maps' famous landscape-warping problems.
Until the 3D functionality comes to Google Maps, there's a new nice, easy button in the bottom right-hand corner that makes the viewpoint shift to a tilted, almost-3D (and beautiful) perspective.
Overall, it looks like the new Google Maps has enough feature enhancements without changing the look or feel too much (other than to make it slightly more fluid and intuitive), so the eventual changeover probably won't be too traumatic for most. And as long as parts of the landscape don't remain comically distorted, we'll be fine.