I tried to navigate Singapore using Google Maps’ new AR feature – here’s what happened

Google launched a preview version of its Maps AR function on Pixel phones on May 8.
Business Insider/ Jessica Lin

When Google launched the Pixel 3a and 3a XL earlier this month, it also announced a series of exciting updates and changes to its systems that users could look out for.

Among the updates that have since launched – Timelapse recording mode, kiss detection in Photobooth and augmented reality (AR) directions in Maps – I was most excited about the AR implementation in Maps.

I wouldn’t say I’m terrible with directions, but I always get nervous if I have to navigate in unfamiliar neighbourhoods. So when Google said it was implementing the AR feature in its Maps app for users in Singapore, I couldn’t wait to see if it would improve my experience getting around.

The feature was activated on May 8, the same day that the brand new Pixel 3a hit the shelves. For now, it remains a preview-only feature exclusive to Pixel phones.

Read also: Google’s brand new Pixel 3a phones are now in Singapore – and you won’t need S$1,000 to buy them

Business Insider/Jessica Lin

In its announcement, the tech giant had provided a caveat to using the AR function on Google Maps – the place needs to be well-lit, covered in Google’s Street View, and your phone needs to have a good data connection.

To use the feature, you will first need to enter a destination on Google Maps on your phone. If you are using the latest version of the software, it will show a “Start AR” option when you click on “Directions” under the walking category.

Click on “Start AR” inside the Google Maps app to launch the feature.
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

All you have to do is point your camera at buildings or signs across from you.

I found out pretty early on that the AR could not recognise semi-indoor areas (such as the HDB shop corridor in the photo).

The white dots on the image indicate that the system is trying to identify landmarks in its view. These dots become coloured once the landmarks have been successfully identified.
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

When I tried the feature out at Somerset, the AR recognised where I was under 10 seconds.

Giant blue and white arrows then appeared on the screen, indicating what road I was on, and in which direction I should walk.

There was a smaller pin marker that showed me what my next step should be.

The directions were easy to follow, and the Google Map at the bottom of the screen was reassuring.
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

As I began walking, the app prompted an upcoming road I need to take note of, and indicated how far away it was.

At one point (photo below, right), there were two giant blue arrows confusing me, and I did not know which way to walk.

Turn left? Turn right?
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

A safety feature within Google Maps prevents you from looking at the phone while walking. While this can be annoying at first, I eventually appreciated it when I realised how many accidents I could’ve had if I kept on navigating through my phone instead of looking up and around me.

Google previously told Business Insider US that it purposely displays directional AR arrows only during “moments of confusion” such as when users first start on their journey, when a turn is approaching, or when arriving at a destination. This is to prevent accidents caused by users staring at their screens and ignoring their surroundings while walking.

The screen blacks out if you ignore a warning to put your phone down while walking.
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

All in all, I was very pleased with how quickly the AR function worked. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the feature worked well even on the beach at Sentosa island.

Tip: Business Insider US reported that the feature works best in front of permanent structures such as buildings and landmarks, rather than trees and plants as these change their appearance depending on the time and season.

It even recognised Palawan Beach from inside the bus!
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

For some reason, I found the AR function improving over time (or perhaps I was just getting better at using it).

In the initial uses, I did not receive any notification even when I arrived at my destination But after a few tries and around a week later, a big red pin marker started to appear when I arrived at my destination.

Definitely can’t miss the entrance to KFC with this huge red marker in front of it.
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

One thing to note before trying the feature out is that Google Maps is still not perfect in finding the best route all the time.

So before you click on “Start AR”, check that the route it is taking you on makes sense.

The example below shows the app directing me on a 13-minute walk to my destination, when there clearly is a more straightforward route that will take just 3 minutes to complete.

Tip: Check that Maps is not taking you on a tour of the neighbourhood.
Business Insider/Jessica Lin

Verdict:

So do I see myself continuing to use the AR feature in Google maps? Yes, especially if I’m in a foreign land where buildings and street names are in a different language.

The ability to see where to go next without having to check and re-check if I’m turning at the correct junction, street or landmark makes getting around so much more hassle-free.

One thing though – the AR function does consume a bit more of your phone’s battery life, so a powerful external charger will become a necessity if you don’t want to run out of juice too soon.

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