How to Use Google Maps Like a Power User

How to Use Google Maps Like a Power User

Google Maps, the navigation app that’s preloaded on most Android smartphones (at least, those which comply with Google’s Mobile Application Distribution Agreement), is one of the most popular on the planet. It’s the go-to source of directions, restaurant recommendations, photos, and business hours for more than a billion users worldwide, and it’s no wonder; to maintain its Sterling reputation, Google says it makes “millions” of updates to Google Maps every day.

But there’s a lot about Google Maps that isn’t obvious, which is why we’ve compiled a list of some of the less-obvious features lying just beneath the surface. Master them, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Google Maps power user.


By Kyle Wiggers

How to Measure the Distance Between Points

Measuring the distance between two points.

When you’re zoomed out to 1:12,000 scale (1000 feet, represented on the map by 5.28 inches), every destination looks like a just a hop and a skip away — until you start walking there. To find the true distance between two points, use the measuring tool in Google Maps. It’s easy:

  1. Touch and hold anywhere on the map. You’ll see a red pin appear.

  2. Tap the name of the place at the bottom of the screen. Scroll down until you spot the Measure distance tool; tap it.

  3. Move the map until the black circle is hovering over your destination. You’ll see the distance in miles (or kilometers) at the bottom.

  4. Tap the plus button to add more points, or select the three-dot menu icon to clear your selections.

How to Download an Offline Map

We might live in a world of 24/7 connectivity, but offline maps have their uses — whether you’re planning a road trip through the backcountry or closing in on your monthly data cap. Luckily, they’re easy to download, store, and manage in Google Maps. You just need to know where to look.

  1. Search for an address, town, or city, then tap the location’s name at the bottom of the screen.

  2. Select Download. You’ll find it next to the Share Place button.

  3. Drag or zoom to adjust the map, and then tap Download.

  4. Maps will download the area in the background. When it finishes, you’ll be able to search for businesses, see street addresses, and get turn-by-turn directions even when you aren’t connected to Wi-Fi or cellular.  

To manage the maps you’ve downloaded, swipe left from the Google Maps home screen. Tap Offline maps, and select the three-dot icon next to any map in the list to Update, View, Rename, or Delete it. Alternatively, select the gear button in the upper-right corner to tweak offline maps’ behavior. You can prevent maps from automatically updating and downloading, or specify whether you want offline maps to download over Wi-Fi, cellular, or both.

How to Search Along A Route

Search along your route.

Need to find a pit-stop in the middle of a road trip? Google Maps lets you search for gas stations, restaurants, coffee shops, and everything else your heart desires en route to your destination. It couldn’t be simpler:

  1. After you’ve started turn-by-turn navigation, tap the magnifying glass icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, below the microphone button.

  2. Type in a destination, or choose from one the suggestions (Gas station, Restaurant, Grocery stores, Coffee shops).

  3. After you make a selection, you’ll see the names of nearby places along your route, in addition to the estimated amount of time they’ll add to your commute.

How to See Popular Times And Wait Times For Locations

See popular times for businesses.

We’ve all been there: You made a spur-of-the-moment plan to swing by the hip new restaurant in town without a reservation. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see when it’s going to be least busy? Good news: With Google Maps, you can. Google crowdsources anonymized location data from Android an iOS users to predict how crowded a place will be at any given time.

  1. Search for or tap on a restaurant, theater, bookstore, or other venue in Google Maps. Tap on the name at the bottom of the screen.

  2. Scroll down until you reach Popular times  — it should be below Questions & answers. Not all locations are tracked.

In addition to an hour-by-hour crowd report by day of the week, Popular times shows how long you’ll likely have to wait and how long people usually spend at the location.

How to See Contacts On the Map

Pulling up contact addresses.

Heading for a friend’s place but can’t seem to find the right crossroad? Displaying his or her location on Google Maps is your best bet. As long as said friend’s address is in your contacts, you can quickly pin it as a destination. Here’s how:

  1. Tap the search bar in Google Maps and begin typing your contact’s name or address. You’ll see matching results appear in the suggestions.

  2. Choose a name or address to see that contact on the map.

  3. See the contact’s details by tapping the bottom of the screen.

If your best buddy’s address hasn’t been added to Google Maps, not to worry. There’s an easy fix:

  1. Tap the search bar in Google Maps and begin typing an address.

  2. At the bottom of the screen, select the address.

  3. Tap Label and enter the name of your contact. Note that he or she has to be in your Google Contacts.

  4. Select from one of the following options: Home, Work, or Add other address.

Deleting a Google contact address is just as simple:

  1. Tap the three-line menu icon on the Google Maps home screen, and then select Your places > Labeled.

  2. Hit More.

  3. To prevent a contact from showing up on Google Maps, select Hide contact in Maps > Hide. Alternatively, to remove an address from your contacts across Google, tap Remove contact address > Remove.

How to Set or Change Home and Work Addresses

Changing your home and work address.

Saving your home and work address in Google Maps sure beats having to type them in manually. After all, what’s not to love about being able to start turn-by-turn directions with simple, “OK Google, navigate to home” voice command? Here’s how to do it.

  1. Tap the three-line menu icon on the Google Maps screen, and then select Your place > Labeled.

  2. Choose Home or Work, and type in your home or work address.

  3. Tap Save when you’re finished.

If you need to change your address for any reason, head back to the Your place > Labeled menu and tap the Edit button next the address you’d like to change. To delete an address, select the X button instead.

How to Send Directions To A Phone or Tablet From A PC

Send directions from your PC to your smartphone.

Sometimes, it’s nice to browse Google Maps from the comfort of your keyboard, mouse, and comfy ergonomic chair. But copying down directions from your PC is a cumbersome affair. Luckily, Maps has you covered with a “send directions” feature that beams destinations from your computer to your smartphone. Here’s how to take advantage of it.

  1. On a computer, open Google Maps in the web browser of your choice and find the destination you want to send.

  2. Below the search box, click Send to phone. Then, select the phone or tablet you want to send to from the list.

  3. If all goes according to plan, you’ll get a notification on your phone. If you don’t, you might have to enable notifications in Google Maps — tap the three-line menu icon from the Google Maps screen and select Settings > Notifications. Tap and enable all relevant notification categories.

  4. Still not seeing your phone in the “send directions menu”? Try clearing your app data by heading to Android’s Settings menu, then Apps > Google Maps and tapping Clear data. Next, uninstall, and re-install Google Maps.

How to Save A Parking Location

Save your parking location.

Where’d you park that car? Spotting your ride in a sea of lookalike cars isn’t easy. Why not offload that mental strain to Google Maps, which will helpfully point you in the right direction when it comes time to head home? Here’s how to save and find where you’re parked:

  1. In Google Maps, tap the blue dot that shows your location.

  2. Tap Save your parking.

  3. To find where you’ve parked, tap the Search button in Google Maps and Parking location. Then tap Directions for turn-by-turn guidance to your vehicular pride and joy.

How to See Inside Places With Indoor Maps

See indoor maps.

Whether you’re stranded in an unfamiliar airport during a layover or traipsing around a megamall, it’s useful to have a navigational frame of reference. In select locations in more than 25 countries around the world, Google Maps supplies multi-level indoor maps and floor plans that highlight points of interest.

  1. In Google maps, use the search bar to find a mall, sports venue, library, museum, or airport with an indoor map. Need ideas? Check out Google’s list of prominent locations with indoor navigation.

  2. Zoom in on your selection until the floor layout appears, which is distinguished from the rest of the map by a cream-colored background and border.

  3. Scroll around the indoor map to see the location of restaurants, bathrooms, shops, kiosks, and stairs.

How to Share Real-Time Location With Friends and Family

Share an ETA with friends.

If you’re en route to a party and your friend won’t stop bugging you for an ETA, give real-time location sharing in Google Maps a go. Your nagging friend will see your whereabouts on his or her own smartphone for as long as you choose.

Here’s how to share an ETA with another Google Maps user:

  1. Set a driving destination in Google Maps by searching for a location, tapping Directions, selecting Driving, and hitting the Start button.

  2. After turn-by-turn navigation begins, tap More and then Share trip progress. Choose a person from the list, and select Share.

  3. To share your location through a messaging app such as Facebook Messenger or Hangouts, tap More and select an app from the list.

To stop sharing your location at any time, tap the three-line menu icon from the Google Maps screen, then select Location sharing. Next, tap Remove next to the person with whom you want to stop sharing.

If someone’s shared their location with you, here’s how to see them on the map:

  1. Tap the three-line menu icon from the Google Maps screen, and then select Location sharing.

  2. Choose a contact from the list. To see an updated location, tap More and Refresh.

How to Ask and Answer Questions About a Place

Asking and answering questions.

Does this bar serve a mean negroni cocktail? Is the dress casual or business formal? How good’s the view from the nosebleed section? No matter the questions on your mind about a location, the Questions & answers feature of Google Maps will try to satisfy them. It is, as the name implies, a way for Google Maps users to ask questions about places and businesses that other users can respond to directly. Here’s how it works.

To ask a question:

  1. Search for the place from the Google Maps screen and tap the name of the place at the bottom.

  2. Scroll down the listing until you spot the Questions & answers section. Tap See all questions.

  3. Tap Ask the community under Questions & answers.

To answer someone’s questions:

  1. Search for the place from the Google Maps screen and tap the name of the place at the bottom.

  2. Scroll down the listing until you spot the Questions & answers section. Tap See all questions.

  3. Next to the question you’d like to answer, tap See more questions.

How to Share a List of Places

Add places to your personal lists.

Google Maps is good for more than just directions. Thanks to the somewhat recent addition of lists, it’s a convenient trip planner. As you’re exploring the world (or neighborhood) through Google Maps, you can add your favorite locations to one of three lists — Favorites, Starred Places, and Want to Go — that stay up to date and sync across devices as long as you’re logged into your Google account. You can also share them with friends via a link.

  1. To see your lists, tap the three-line menu in Google maps and select Your places. Then tap Saved.

  2. Tap on the list you’d like to view. To add a location, select the plus icon and type in the name, and to share the list once you’ve finished, tap the share icon and select the app or contact of your choice.

About author

Kyle Wiggers
Kyle Wiggers

Kyle Wiggers is a writer, Web designer, and podcaster with an acute interest in all things tech. When not reviewing gadgets or apps, he enjoys reading the New Yorker, tinkering with computers, and playing the occasional game of Rock Me Archimedes.

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