5 New Customization Features in Google Maps

As we wrote in this blog, it’s been 15 years since Google launched their very first Google Maps API. To celebrate this the mapping expert recently announced two new updates to Google Maps: ‘Local Context’ and new Maps customization features.

In this blog we’ll take you through the five new Maps customization features developed to make it easier than ever before to create deeply customized maps. Ready to get started?

Customization in the cloud

As part of the new Maps customization features Google is introducing cloud-based Maps styling. This means that you can now create and manage your map styles via the Google Cloud Console. This unlocks three important benefits: More customization, easier management, and faster deployment of tests and new features.

Until now, Maps customization has been handled through JSON which was sent to the server with map requests. JSON stands for JavaScript Object Notation and is a data interchange format that uses human-readable text to store and represent data objects based on JavaScript syntax. The problem with this solution was that the amount of customization that could be done was capped by URL character limits. In other words, you quickly hit the limit for how much customization could be done when styling your map. With the cloud-based Maps styling the number of customizations that can be done to a map increases to over 250 for most browsers.

Managing your maps styles also becomes much easier with styles living on the server. And better yet, managing your styles across platforms and properties also becomes easy peasy. Now, a single map style can serve as many maps as you want it to. This means that a style change can be implemented across a range of apps and sites so you don’t have to go through any complicated deployments.

The cloud-based Maps customization also allows more members of your team to update your maps, including those who don’t code. Whether your UX team wants to customize your map to increase the user experience or marketing wants to change the map to better match your visual identity, they can now do so without a single line of code. Once published, the new map style will update in near real-time across all of your platforms and devices.

Crisper looking maps with Vector Maps

Thanks to this new customization feature, your maps will look better than ever when users engage with it.

Google Maps is now bringing Vector Maps to the JavaScript API. Unlike raster tile maps which consist of a set of images, vector maps are rendered on the client side. This is done using WebGL, a web technology that takes advantage of the GPU on the user’s device to draw smoother, crisper map tiles that look great during user interactions like panning and zooming.

In addition to Vector Maps which is supported on both JavaScript, Android, and iOS, Google is also bringing Marker Collision Management to all three platforms, so developers can decide which markers take priority over and suppress basemap information. Like this, markers will no longer “collide” or compete with nearby labels and other map information. This allows much more information to be displayed on the map, like richer POIs or more labels, without making the map cluttered and unreadable.

Increased control over displayed POIs

Google Maps contains information on about 200 million businesses and places worldwide. All businesses are grouped together in the same POI category called “Business”, but now Google is adding five subcategories to give you more control over which businesses to show. With the new subcategories - lodging, shopping, food & drink, car rental, and gas stations - you can display nearby restaurants and shops to help customers plan their stay at your hotel, but filter out lodging POIs to avoid displaying competitors. In addition, you can now control the POI Density of your map too. This means that you can select how many POIs you want to show per POI category, keeping your map clear while displaying the POIs most important to your customers.

How you get started

The Maps customization features are released in beta and will roll out to all Google Maps Platform customers over the coming weeks. Once they’re available to your project, you’ll see new ‘Map Management’ and ‘Map Styles’ tabs in the Google Maps Platform section of the Cloud Console. For technical details on customizing your map implementations, visit Google’s documentation (Android, iOS, Javascript).

If you also want to know more about the new Local Context feature, read our blog "Google Maps ‘Local Context’: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?"