The smartphone is truly the magician’s wand of the 21st century. So many magic powers are stored in that little box of plastic, metal, and glass, yet the stylishly minimalistic designs are intended to blend it in with the everyday world around us. Just like radio, aeroplanes, and many other inventions before it, the smartphone does things unimaginable to previous generations, and streamlines processes that used to be much tougher. But while radio and aeroplanes in themselves have somewhat limited – if wonderful – potential, the smartphone’s apps are digital magic spells for just about any problem we can think to solve.
To have access to a world of maps via this little device is truly one of its greatest strengths. Even the apparently revolutionary GPS devices we briefly glued to the windscreens of our cars have bowed to the might of the smartphone as it has become, well, smarter – smart enough that it’s just about the only navigation device you need with you (unless you’re headed to Antarctica or – horrors! – outside of your signal range).
And so much of that power comes from one particular source: Google Maps. Not only have Google become the definitive cartographers of the present generation, providing comprehensive street maps, 3D views and aerial photography, but their ever-elegant app is loaded with the kind of functionality that has more or less consigned paper maps to history.
You now have, at your thumb-tip, up-to-the-minute information about each of the venues and stores you hope to visit, such as reviews and reports on how busy they might be right now; near-instantaneous automatic route planning between destinations, including the ability to switch transport mode and find a more appropriate route; and the ability to save your map to your Google account to recover from a different device or to share with friends and colleagues. Whatever ‘magic’ thrill we may have lost with the death of that romantic paper map, the ability to tailor maps together with like-minded adventurers surely more than makes up for it.
It’s all pretty easy to use, too, and if you’ve shied away from using Google Maps to its full potential, this handy visual guide is a great place to start using it properly before your next trip.