Judging by a patent filed in March, Google looks set to be changing the UI of Maps and Street View, making the images larger and bringing the navigational controls on top of the image (and to the right.)

Google's patent describes the change in UI as so—

"Conventional navigation controls are often located on a tool bar in the UI which is separate from the image display area. Having the navigation controls located at a different location in the UI than the imagery can consume screen space which could be otherwise used for providing additional UI functionality, advertising and the like. Moreover, having the navigation controls separate from the imagery can force the user to take their eyes off the imagery while navigating."

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Instead of clicking on the controls to pan left, right, in and out and so on, users could just use the new driving-wheel to move to the location desired. According to the patent, it "allows the user to rotate smoothly in all directions without incremental stops."

I think perhaps the biggest challenge I face every time I load Google Maps is related to Street View—namely, pinpointing the exact location I wish to view, and navigating down streets using the arrows. Is there anything else you'd like to see changed in Google Maps or Street View? [Google patent via GoRumors]

UPDATE: Several commenters pointed out that the navigational controls are similar to that of Google Earth's—something I hadn't realized, as I can't remember the last time I looked at it. It's crazy that in this day and age, you still have to download it to your desktop—why not incorporate it into the browser along with Google Maps?

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UPDATE 2: Reader Hussain pointed my attention towards this plug-in which does just that. Enjoy.