One of the most powerful applications in Android is Google Maps Mobile (also called Google Maps or simply Maps on the gPhone). When it's combined with a built-in GPS chip and an accelerometer, which knows which way you're holding or tilting the phone, the Maps application can find your current location on a map to an accuracy of about 10 feet (3 meters). Pretty powerful stuff.
The advent of live mobile maps means never having to use a paper map again—provided that you don't run out of battery power, that is! With Google Maps, you can determine your current location, find businesses and landmarks, get driving directions and real-time traffic reports, and explore satellite and street images.
Google Maps is probably worthy of its own chapter (or possibly even its own book), but because I don't have the space for full coverage here, I'll focus on some of its key features.
When you launch Google Maps for Android, the app displays the last map you viewed. If you have GPS turned on, Maps can pinpoint your exact location; just press the Menu key and then tap My Location (Figure 4.10).
Figure 4.10 You can access most of the options in Maps when you press the Menu key.
You access specific functions by tapping any of the following buttons, which appear after you press the Menu key:
- Search. Find an address or city by tapping Search—or even just search for pizza, and Maps returns all the pizza shops near you, neatly plotted on a map. For retail establishments that it finds, Maps also lists their complete street addresses and phone numbers. Pizza indeed!
Directions. This feature is Google Maps at its best, giving you directions from point A to point B. If you've used online mapping before, the Directions feature will be very familiar to you. If not, enter your start and end locations, and tap Route (Figure 4.11) to get directions (Figure 4.12). It's really that simple.
Figure 4.11 Getting directions is as easy as entering two locations and then tapping Route.
Figure 4.12 Follow the written directions here, or tap Show Map to see the route plotted on a map.
Figure 4.13 Set a location source in this screen.
Map Mode. The Map Mode screen (Figure 4.14) lets you choose a map-viewing option: Map, Satellite, Traffic, or Street View. (I cover the latter two views in detail in the next section.)
Figure 4.14 Map Mode allows you to choose how you want to view a map. In the background is Satellite mode.
- My Location. This feature asks the GPS satellites for your longitude and latitude and then plots the intersection of those points on a map (a Google Map, naturally).
- Latitude. Tapping the Latitude button takes you to Google Latitude (www.google.com/latitude), a social-networking service that plots your friends' locations on a map—a handy way to see who's out and about. Then you can text, instant-message, or call any of those people. This feature is only as good as the number of your friends who use it, however.
More. Tapping the More button reveals additional Maps options (Figure 4.15) that let you clear the map, zoom, and even view the map history (your previous searches). If you're concerned about the privacy implications of GPS, the privacy option lets you choose one of four privacy levels, ranging from sending automatic location updates to turning Latitude off.
Figure 4.15 Tap the More button to see extra options.
Traffic and Street views
The Map Mode screen (refer to Figure 4.14) allows you to choose any of four ways to view your maps. You should be familiar with the map and satellite options, which are the most common choices. But the power of Google Maps really shines through in the last two choices:
- Traffic. Traffic mode displays real-time traffic overlaid on top of your current map or route—great for finding the fastest route.
Street View. This amazing mode shows street-level images of your map location (Figure 4.16). Because Street View is labor-intensive, requiring Google personnel to take and upload millions of photos, it's not available everywhere, but it is available for many major cities in the United States and abroad.
Figure 4.16 A Street View image of Paris, displayed in a Web browser.
At press time, Google Maps for Android didn't include walking or public-transit information, but because these features are available on other mobile phones, it should be only a matter of time before they're available for Android. After all, Android is Google's own mobile operating system!