Over the last few weeks, Google Maps users may have noticed a few new buttons and tabs appear in the app. Unless you have an eye for detail, it would be easy to assume that they’ve just sort of always been there, but in fact, they’re all part of the AI-based recommendation features that began rolling out on June 26.
The new version of the app contains a whole suite of features that will help you keep tabs on what’s going on in your area and introduce you to new places. The Explore tab on the bottom-left of the app has lists of the best places to go and things to do in each city, and the “For You” tab (bottom-right) aims to be more like a newsfeed of things that are trending around you, from restaurants to concerts to pieces of news.
Unfortunately, some of these features are only available on Android. If you’re using iOS, you’ll be missing the “For You” tab and the “Match” score.
This is the most obvious addition to the app; it shows up next to the star ratings whenever you click on a restaurant and is calculated using the data Google’s gathered about your preferences. (Yes, you need to have location history turned on for this to work). The criteria include where you’ve gone in the past, ratings you’ve given to places, and preferences you can set manually. If the scores don’t seem to jive with what you actually think of a place, you can refine it by contributing more or tweaking your settings.
To set your preferences manually, you can go to “Settings -> Exploring Places -> Food and Drink Preferences.”
From there, you can choose from any number of cuisines and styles to let the app know what you’re more likely to prefer, from Cambodian cuisine to cheap drinks.
The “Explore” Tab
This tab is available to both Android and iOS users, and it’s all about helping you find out what’s around you. Google’s algorithms, local experts, and a few trusted sources determine what shows up here, and (if you’re on Android) they’ll be sorted according to your match score. Looking for the top ten taco places in a new city? A list of bands playing this weekend? Pizza places you haven’t tried yet? The Explore tab keeps it all in one place, and it can even keep track of where you’ve been and check it off your list.
One of the more interesting features here is the (upcoming) ability to make plans with a group. If you find a good dinner place, you will be able to give it a long press to add it to a list of places shared with your friends/family. They can add more places and vote on them to decide where to go. That’s right – pretty soon your nights out will be powered by democracy.
While the main focus in the Explore tab is on food and events, if you hit the “More” button, it will pop out with many other options – perhaps not as well-curated as the main attractions, but convenient if you just need to get a sense of where the grocery stores are.
The “For You” Tab
The Explore Tab is like Wikipedia – an extensive collection of information about a place. The For You tab, though, is more like Facebook or Twitter, automatically updating you with things it thinks you might like about the places you’ve chosen to follow. Exploring is great for new cities, but sometimes you just want to know what’s going on in your hometown.
It’s pretty easy to set up the tab. You just have to choose one or more areas to follow, and everything should just fall into place. It’s not quite as useful as the Explore tab yet (it doesn’t seem to update very often, and it’s only available in the U.S, U.K, Canada, Australia, and Japan for now), and at least in my city, it doesn’t seem to update very often, but in time it might be a good way to stay on top of local happenings.
Personalized Geography: Cool? Creepy?
Honestly, it’s both. The advantages that come with this kind of integration don’t just appear for free. As convenient as it is to use Google Maps to shape your experience wherever you go, your use of the app is undeniably feeding information about you to Google’s advertising networks.
Explore and For You are both great ways to get to know places better than you could have before, but if you’re using an Android with your location history turned on, keep in mind that the algorithms aren’t just there to recommend neat stuff to you. Nonetheless, whether I decide to let the app get personal or not, the Explore tab is probably going to be one of the first things I hit when I land in a new city.