I am still very hesitant about going out into the world and living my life. The pandemic is not over, and my kid still can’t get a vaccine. Until then, I’m avoiding densely crowded areas as much as I possibly can.
But with the holiday shopping season in full swing and this being the time of year you want to get out and see it all in action, I’m finding myself more inclined to try to step outside and catch myself a little holiday cheer. It would be helpful to see just how intense it might be before I head out, and Google Maps has a few new features designed to make it the app you rely on for the next six weeks.
The company is expanding its Area Busyness feature for Google Maps to include stores, shops, and other recreational places, including museums and parks. Once you open Google Maps on your phone, you can zoom in to see a pin on places that are the busiest in the area you’re scouting to help you plan alternative routes. It’s also an easy way to figure out if the shortcut you usually take will bring you into the midst of a crowded holiday craft fair. The Area Busyness feature will be globally available, and it’s rolling out soon for Android and iOS.
If you plan to do your holiday shopping in person, you can use Google Maps’ revamped Directory tab to look inside malls, transit stations, and airports. It helps figure out how much room there is inside these enclosed spaces. Inside malls and airports, it’ll help you see which side of the building to be on and on which floor. You can also use the Directory tab to locate airline lounges, car rental, and parking lots—all things that are hard to glean from a Google Maps satellite layer.
As part of the updates, Google announced its grocery pickup service has expanded to more Kroger, Fry’s, Ralphs, and Mariano’s grocery stores. Google started piloting the service last year at select Fred Meyer locations in Portland, Ore. Currently, Google says it’s available for use at more than 2,000 store locations in more than 30 states across the U.S.
After you place an order for pickup within the store’s app, you can add it to Maps. Google will alert you when it’s ready for you. When you leave your house to pick up the order, Maps will ping the store to let them know your whereabouts so that your order is at the front of the line when you arrive.
Google says that people who used this feature within Google Maps waited for less than five minutes for their groceries. But it’s unclear how fast it will remain when more people catch on to this feature of extreme convenience—especially during the holiday shopping season. The grocery store parking lot remains one of America’s most active battlegrounds during this time of year. Everyone is out for blood. You don’t know holiday stress until you’ve gotten into it with another driver over who has dibs on the parking spot. I have, and I’m here to tell you: No thank you.
Google Map’s restaurant listings now have a feature that shows the average price of food per person. Google will let you sort restaurants based on budget when you’re looking for a place to eat. It will also let you know how many people have contributed to that data. And since there are still pandemic safety protocols in place, and many folks are only half-comfortable leaving the house, restaurant listings will include information on whether there is outdoor seating, delivery options, and curbside pickup.
All this is to ensure that you keep using Google Maps for all your holiday needs. I’m sincerely aching to get back out into the world, but I’m still so fearful of what I could bring home. That’s why I try to arm myself with as much data as possible before leaving the house. I was already using the Google Maps busyness feature to scope for when to eat at restaurants, so I’m glad to have more information to venture out into the world with my family without coming into contact with... too many other people.