Google Maps is about to get better—especially if you take public transportation

The service has been around for 15 years, and is introducing a revamped look and new features.
Google Maps

The new "five tab" look of the Google Maps app. Google

Google Maps has officially been in the world for a decade and a half: the company first launched its Maps product 15 years ago this month, as a web-only service. Fast forward from the pre-iPhone days of 2005, and the company has since rolled out Google Earth, Street View—with its collection of mundane, extreme, and just plain weird images—and more. Now, it’s even using artificial intelligence to help it do tasks like create the shapes of buildings based on satellite imagery.

Today, it’s not the only app in its category: Apple Maps isn’t bad, apps like Citymapper can help you with your commute, and Waze—also owned by Google—is good for driving.

To mark its 15 years, Google is slightly changing the layout of the Maps app. Instead of three tabs at the bottom of the app, there are now five: Explore, Commute, Saved, Contribute, and Updates. Explore is the main screen for just checking out the map; Commute is predictably where you can manage your trip to work and back; Saved is for lists of places you want to go or a place you’ve labelled, like “Home”; Contribute is for feedback like a restaurant review; and Updates has recommendations of places to explore.

Google is also adding a few new features besides the minor redesign. Those new offerings are focused on improving people’s experience on public transportation. Based on user contributions, Maps will show information such as what the temperature is like on board, if security is present, if an entrance is accessible to people with disabilities, and if there’s a women-only section of a train, for example. That kind of data, if accurate, could help people make decisions that would ideally result in safer, or more comfortable, travel.

The app will also offer a new version of its Live View feature, which previously allowed users to hold their phones up and see large augmented-reality arrows on the screen superimposed over the real scene displayed in front of them. A new version of Live View will be slightly different, with a little less AR information overlaid on the screen.

When you get the new version of the app, one other point to keep in mind is that the company has introduced new privacy-focused options over the past year. One of them automatically purges location history every 3 or 18 months. The way you currently access that—and it’s not very intuitive—is through the three-line menu on the left side of the search bar up top in Google Maps. With the new version of the app, that three-line hamburger-style menu is going away, so you’ll need to look for settings like that by clicking on your profile photo on the upper right. That’s also the place where you can enable “Incognito mode” on your map, so it doesn’t save your location history as you use it.

And while you’re thinking about Google and privacy, consider managing how long the company saves your Web & App Activity, which stores data like what you’ve searched for on Google. To have it automatically delete that stuff every 3 or 18 months, sign into your Google account on a desktop, click on your profile photo in the upper right, and then Manage your Google Account, then Data & personalization, then Web & App Activity under Activity controls, then Manage Activity, then look for the auto-delete option on the right. Google doesn’t always make it easy to find features like these, but it’s worth digging around and customizing as you see fit.