a cell phone with a screen

You know the feeling. The one where you zoom in on a map trying to find a point of reference, just to get your bearings before setting off in the wrong direction. But even with the incredible advances of app based navigation, there’s still an element of uncertainty and sometimes you can’t help but feel lost as the pinging dot seems to go in the wrong direction. That is, until now. Google Maps just rolled out its first augmented reality directions preview, so the “sorry, I got lost” excuse is about to go out the window.

For some of you, you may be having a “wtf is augmented reality” moment.

The answer is that augmented reality is basically superimposing a graphic over an actual picture, or stream of images. Imagine a real picture of a street corner, but with a big digital arrow pointing you in a direction. The composite of the two creates what is known as “augmented reality”, and that’s exactly what Google Maps is moving toward.

It’s easier just to see it…

a screen shot of a phone

Google is now offering a preview of its “Start AR” directions, which use realtime images of the surroundings around you to point exactly where you need to go. It basically sees without actually seeing, just like Google Lens. You point your phone, and Google uses its super database to know what the camera is looking at, and superimpose borderline idiot proof directions over what it sees.

If you’re in New York City on the Corner of 15th street and 8th avenue, you’d see that Starbucks you’re looking at in real life on your phone, along with an arrow showing you which way you’re actually supposed to go. Until you actually turn to the correct direction, it’ll keep insisting you turn around!

So far, there’s just one catch, well, two.

a screenshot of a phone

Your phone will need decent daylight to see where it is, and it will also need a data connection. If you happen to be on an international plan like Google Fi, that’s not such a big deal, but if you pay through the nose for data abroad, you may want to wait until you are somewhere domestic.

This exciting update was blasted out to Google Pixel users, so it’s only a matter of time before it reaches full tilt on Apple and Android. For now, make sure to download the newest version of Google Maps, and the next time you need step by step directions, cross your fingers for a “Start AR” option. If you have a Google Pixel, you probably already have it.

With the launch of countless new features in Google Trips, Google Flights and Google Hotels, it’s clear that this is the year Google takes on travel as we know it. So far, we’ve got no problem with that!

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. Yay! I remember being in Tokyo a year or so ago and being SO FRUSTRATED with google maps walking directions. The high buildings seemed to give it trouble with knowing which way I was facing and the intricate streets and language barrier made it hard to guess by names on buildings etc. Thankfully there are a ton of Starbucks so I used that to help know if I was going the correct way. I have had much better luck using it in cities with lower profile buildings, such as Rabat and Tunis. Can’t wait to see how this works!

  2. Would be cool to have something like Google glasses with this feature, makes much more sense.

    But yes it’s still good improvement.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *