Google Pushes Maps in a More Visual Direction

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Google has been making search more visual for years. One step in this direction was making photos more prominent in search results. Now, Google is making Live View more searchable (it is Google, after all).

Live View is Google’s 3D/AR mapping feature for urban walking navigation. It uses Google’s Street View image database to localize devices (recognize where you’re standing) and overlay AR directional arrows on your route. It’s an intuitive way to navigate in high-density urban contexts.

With the latest update, you can now search for businesses in the same three-dimensional UX. By holding up your phone to a given streetscape, you can search for a business (say, ATMs) to see them revealed visually through AR. Think of it as a visual intelligence layer to your regular line of sight.

“You can just lift up your camera and see overlaid on the real world the ATM that’s nearby,” said Google VP and GM of Geo Chris Phillips at a recent Google event. “You can also see coffee shops, grocery stores, and transit stations. You really get a sense of what an area is like at a glance.”

Live View’s Unique Positioning

The Live View UX includes both search and discover elements. Users can search for specific businesses (and categories) or discover what’s around them as characterized above. Users can tap on different business categories to activate layers (our word) of proximate businesses.

Google teased this update at its September Search On event, but it went live in November with some new updates and revelations. For example, the visual search function is available for a variety of business verticals. Though, Google emphasizes high-value categories like coffee shops, banks, and ATMs.

These categories’ value comes not from their transaction sizes but their frequency of use. Google’s years of user search data have presumably informed its choice to emphasize these business types based on the most common searches in the urban locales where Live View is used.

In addition to indicating the whereabouts of these businesses, Google will reveal details like hours of operation and other vitals. Google is uniquely positioned to do all of the above given the data it’s been collecting in years of local search. And it’s only scratched the surface in local visual search.

That gets back to Google Maps’ product roll-out cadence, which shows no signs of slowing. This is especially true for some of these emerging tech integrations that are themselves at an earlier life cycle. That translates to more experimentation we’ll likely see for 3D and immersive features in Google Maps.

The new searchability in Live View, which went live last week on iOS and Android in London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and Tokyo, is just one part of Google’s visual shift. Expect it to become more apparent not just in Maps but in searches across Google properties, a key move especially as visual-first platforms like TikTok and Instagram become more popular for local discovery.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at