Google Maps is finally rolling out its AR walking navigation to a wider audience. The feature was declared at Google I/O 2018, entered secret testing in February, and launched for Pixel phones at Google I/O 2019. Now, people will have access to AR navigation, as the feature is launching in beta on Android devices and iPhones.
The AR navigation feature is famously known as “Live View,” and it’s created to help kick off your walking navigation. GPS is great for pinning your location on a map, but nothing about GPS determines which direction you are facing. To help with this, smartphones have built-in compasses, which are supposed to nail down your heading. Compasses operate by detecting the Earth’s magnetic field, and while that is fine when one has a regular analog compass, building a compass into a smartphone means surrounding it with electronics and several actual magnets, which can make an accurate reading quite difficult to obtain. When you’re walking out of the Starbucks and just wish to know whether your first step is to the left or right, watching the compass helplessly spin around in a circle is just not helpful.
So, Google Maps Live View simply flushes all that compass stuff and instead manages directional heading with cameras and sensors. Google names the system “VPS,” or “Visual Positioning System.” Your phone’s GPS narrows down your location, you point your camera at the world, and Google matches the camera footage to the plethora of visual data it contains from things like Street View. This gives VPS your position and heading in 3D space, assuming Google has the details for your location. And that makes it a lot more accurate than a compass.
Since the camera gets fired up anyways, one might also use it to display a super-cool augmented reality interface. Google overlays the camera feed on top of a map and draws directional arrows in the camera feed. Early experiments had you follow a virtual character around, but sadly there’s no guide mode in the shipping version.
Google says the new Maps feature is rolling out to “Android and iOS devices that support ARCore and ARKit.”