August 8, 2012

Google Maps: Bookmarks

I was recently in New York for a weekend to catch the first ever soccer game at Yankee Stadium. Since I was only going to be in town for a couple of days I decided to check out a few places I hadn't been to in a while, and some new places my friends had recommended I check out. I pulled out my iPad and launched the Google Maps app so I could navigate to where I wanted to start off, and to plan transit routes. After some intense use of the app, I realized Google provided an option for users to save locations by adding them as bookmarks.  An idea quickly came to head: Save the locations of all the places I intend to visit (in order) before I go out into the city. This would allow me to quickly pull up the address, transit routes, and even walking directions to my final destination. Sweet.

After bookmarking about five locations on the iPad app, I got ready and set off to town with my friend. I had assumed my carefully added bookmarks would be available on my iPhone, naturally. Why? because one, I was signed into my Google account so I reckoned my information was getting synced that way. Two, in this age of iCloud I didn't think my bookmarks would only be stored locally on the iPhone. Whiles waiting for our train, I decided to pull out my iPhone to make sure everything was going as planned i.e. whether my bookmarked locations were available to view. And to my surprise, my bookmarks hadn't synced from my iPad to iPhone. I looked at my buddy and we both couldn't believe it. I knew it wasn't a sync issue because the iPhone was on WiFi before I left the building, 4G coverage was strong, and I was signed into my Google account on the iPhone.

With the introduction of iCloud and the everything-everywhere mantra, this should be a no-brainer for Google. Google already syncs your Chrome browser bookmarks, apps, and extensions but it forgot to sync Maps bookmarks. It really doesn't seem like it would take that much to implement this feature into one of their flagship products.

Just to make sure it wasn't user-error, I did some research online and found out that the Maps bookmarks are actually stored locally on the iPhone (not synced), and backed up with the normal iPhone backups. But when you go to perform a restore (new) you are going to lose all those bookmarks. There's currently a thread requesting this feature on the Google product forums and I'm hoping Google reads them, because this seems pretty useful and worthy of implementing if you ask me. Just think for a second how beneficial it would be for tourists visiting major cities or anywhere in the world for that matter, since Google Maps practically covers the globe. Travelers will be more efficient on their trips because they will be able to plan their day or even entire week before they embark, and have that information available to them no matter the device they find themselves with. Having Maps bookmarks sync also serves as a kind of to-do list--with more functionality, because you get real-time assisted directions to wherever you are going. 

So I ended up having to redo all the work on my iPhone. But apart from the syncing issue, Maps worked great. It guided me on which trains to take and provided me with real-time transit schedules with an accurate ETA. I've been using Google Maps on the desktop mostly for looking up addresses and businesses. Google Maps was probably my most used app during that weekend, because it got me to where I needed to go. It was invaluable in enriching my experience of New York. It's just unfortunate to realize how great of a product the Google Maps app could be with just this simple implementation. 

Whether Google has this on their list of items to roll out this year still remains to be seen. But this is definitely a feature that is long overdue, and obvious to say the least.

Google, please get it done.

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