The UI is definitely slick, but it definitely has some quirks, some annoying. Some random observations:
- The maps seem to be three dimensional. Look at the map of a complicated highway interchange and you'll see that it seems to get the over / under ramps correct. (For example, look at this map & zoom all the way in -- it pretty accurately reflects a complicated, braided set of onramps & offramps).
- On the other hand, it's not completely three dimensional: while the map has surprisingly current data for Boston's Big Dig, for example, it doesn't actually illustrate the points at which the roadway goes underground. Considering that some of these tunnels have surface roads over them, or will in the future if they don't already, finding a way to denote a tunnel seems important.
- It doesn't show one way streets! This is absolutely essential, especially in urban areas where a lattice of one-way streets can force you to take convoluted routes to follow the seemingly simple paths you could have taken if all the streets were bidirectional. A map service that can't show this data is much less useful than one that does. (That said, the trip planner does seem to show routes with an awareness of one-way streets, and will plot different to & from directions accordingly. So they do have the data, and they do use it where it matters, but they aren't making it visible in the interface. This may have been a deliberate attempt to constrain against information overload, but in this case I think the user really does need that data visible, at least optionally.)
- While the UI is nice and responsive in a way few other web sites are, it has some idiosynchroncies. For example, if I search to a map, then scroll somewhere else, then go to a different browser tab, it sometimes snaps back to the original search when I come back, rather than whatever I was looking at. If I do a new search, it scrolls to the new location from the old one; while this looks cool and may be the desired result if I'm thinking about directions, other times I may be thinking of a completely new & discrete search, and don't want to treat the two searches as a set -- some kind of "new search" option would be good. (This last one is subtle to describe, but kind of annoying once you pick up on it -- it's definitely useful, but maybe a little too helpful, ya know?)
- I like the way it dynamically fills up the current browser window size: note the way the map is always just a bit shorter than the current view is tall. If you resize, the page will start scrolling or have a white margin on the bottom, but will quickly redraw to match the new geometry. Clever.
- The overlay of local data seems much more polished than it was with last year's Google Local. Maybe this will mean abandoning Google Local as a separate entity and incorporating its functionality into Google Maps -- they're already most of the way along to doing exactly this.
- As widely requested, non-US/Canada data would be nice, but I'm sure such things are on the way. Moreover, Google already pulls interesting geolocation tricks, such that a request for google.com from an internet cafe in, say, Switzerland, will automatically and transparently redirect you to google.ch. Likewise, a search for http://news.google.com will redirect you to http://news.google.com/news?ned=de_ch&hl=de. I'm sure that once this gets going, Google Maps will also automatically send visitors into a mapping application that is relevant to their location.
Wish list items:
- Realtime traffic data would be nice, the way Yahoo is now offering. Factoring traffic data into trip planning would be a good next step. Factoring in predictive traffic data would be better -- e.g. "when should I leave and what route should I follow if I want to get from Boston to Washington, D. C. without hitting rush hour traffic in New York City?"
- Being able to place constraints on planned trips would be nice. "How do I get from Medford MA to Burlington MA without using a limited-access highway?" (Maybe I'm riding a bike; maybe my crappy car can't go above 40mph -- it doesn't matter why, it should just be possible to ask for it.). "How do I get from Medford to Burlington, with stops in Reading and Woburn along the way?" (Maybe I have errands to run in those towns and don't want to make a series of trip plans when I can just have one with waypoints.) "Accounting for traffic lights, frequent traffic jam areas, highways, and tolls, what would be the fastest & cheapest commuter-time route to and from Somerville MA to Waltham MA?" (Taking the turnpike is longer but might be faster, but it will cost a couple bucks each way; surface roads might be fast, but congestion in certain areas is chronic; what route will be most reliable?)
- Topographic data would be nice. Using it as a factor in trip planning would be better, e.g. "I want to bike from Somerville MA to Waltham MA on a route that avoids major roads and big hills. Please find me a route."
- Weather data would be nice, but not as critical.
- Accurately showing one way streets is essential. Finding a way to depict underground streets (or bridges, etc) would be nice, but the lack of it isn't critical.
- The functionality to create a link for the current view doesn't work properly: it'll give you a search that more or less shows the region that was being examined, but it will be all zoomed out and improperly centered. It would be nice to have a better approach to this.
- Support for Safari would be nice, but I suppose it's on the way...
This is an intriguing start, but I can see all kinds of ways to build on it, and hope that Google will continue to improve the product now that it is available to the public (as opposed to services like Google News, which is good, but seems to be basically identical to what it was when the beta went live a couple of years ago). Unlike Google News, the unfinished aspects of this tool are obvious enough and annoying enough that I'm not sure I'd yet be willing to make this my primary tool for searching for this kind of information.