When Google Maps is more like a shopping mall
When I first started writing about Google Maps a few years ago, I was impressed with how well it handled navigation, particularly in a city like New York.
Maps was designed to make driving easier by offering a “scrolling view” for navigating the entire map.
As Google explained at the time, you could scroll across a city and see streets, landmarks, and transit routes from different angles.
As long as you weren’t looking at something that was in the way, the map would zoom in on the area you were looking at.
In theory, that’s exactly what you want when you’re driving.
But, as I noted in an earlier post, that idea didn’t scale well.
So, I wondered what it would take to make a navigation system that was more like shopping malls.
That’s exactly the sort of thing Google Maps was born to do.
So what made it so effective?
What made it possible to create a navigation solution that could take advantage of a variety of navigation methods?
The answer was an open-source project called Spawar Commerce, a project originally started in 2007 by two Stanford engineers named Jonathan J. Reif and Andrew L. Reichert.
Reiff and Reichers had been working on a different navigation solution called SparkeX, which they’d been developing for Google Maps since the project was in its infancy.
But it wasn’t until a couple of years later that SparkX’s creators realized that Spawar was the perfect solution for Google’s vision of a shopping-mall-like navigation system.
SparK was built using Google’s existing MapKit API and built with a very different design than the one that Google had used for Maps in the past.
That design was a bit different, as it featured more horizontal navigation along a rectangular grid and a much more vertical layout, which could be used for more than just navigating the map.
So it was more of a navigation stack than a simple shopping mall.
It had a few design features, like having a small icon for each direction you wanted to go, as well as having an icon to indicate when you needed to move the cursor to a specific spot.
It also had a built-in “shopping cart” feature that would automatically add items to the cart to take you to the next location.
This was all great.
But for the most part, it was an incredibly basic solution that relied on the Google Maps API for navigation.
The problem, as Reif explained to me, was that Sparsk didn’t really have a navigation interface that would let you easily navigate from one point to another.
Instead, Sparkes navigation stack relied on Google’s MapKit’s APIs to map navigation directions and make sure the map was displaying them in the correct place.
In other words, it didn’t let you see your directions from the top, as you would normally be able to.
Instead of having a map that would allow you to go from the north end of Manhattan to the south end of Chicago or from the northeast corner of Chicago to the southeast corner of Los Angeles, Sparske would simply display the directions from that location on the map, as if they were directions you had actually seen before.
And as long as your Google Maps app was running, Sparisket would simply give you directions to those locations automatically, without you even having to navigate to them.
This is exactly the kind of thing that Google Maps used to do, and it was incredibly popular.
As of 2015, Sparreks Google Maps Navigation Stack was used by more than 5.5 million people and was used in more than 70 million Google Maps navigation searches in the U.S. in 2017 alone.
Spawar’s solution, on the other hand, relied on a combination of new Google Maps features and some really clever design choices.
For starters, it made use of Google’s API to map the streets and other areas that you were currently on.
When you entered a new location into the search bar on Google Maps, it would prompt you to scroll down to that location, so that you could actually see where you were in the map view.
This feature was particularly useful for users who didn’t like navigating around on maps, as Google Maps doesn’t let the user move the mouse anywhere within the map while they’re navigating.
Sparse maps also worked on smartphones, because they let you navigate from a location in the user’s current location to the location you were at when you entered it.
This worked especially well for people who weren’t used to navigating around maps.
With this feature, Spawar Maps navigators could get a map view that looked like it was scrolling across the map in real time, making navigation quick and easy.
And since Google Maps navigations were always happening on the same screen as the user, Sparse Maps navigator could just point at a location and the map display would start scrolling right away.
And even though the Google maps navigation stack was built for smartphones, it worked even better on tablets and other devices