Summary: Did you know that Google will let you view floor plans of places like airports, shopping malls and department stores? This feature has been available in the Maps app on Android devices for some time, but a few months ago was added to Google Maps for desktop as well. Additionally, I've discovered a little trick that will allow you to view Google Indoor Maps on iPhones and other iOS devices, which you can use while we wait for their developers to update the iOS Google Maps app.
Let me start this post by saying that I'm aware the launch of "Google Indoor Maps" for desktop was several months ago, but it's an important enough development that I think it deserves to be blogged - better late than never!
Unbeknownst to this iPhone owner, Android phone users have enjoyed the ability to use their Google Maps app to view "indoor maps" for several years now. So what are Indoor Maps? Here's how Google explains:
View and navigate floor plans of several commercial locations such as airports, department stores, malls, and more within Google Maps.
Here are a couple ways you can use indoor maps:
Easily meet up with friends with Latitude while you're out shopping.
Search for the nearest bathroom, coffee shop, or airport gate.
Of course those 2 bullet points are only relevant to mobile Android users. But with Google Indoor Maps now also on desktop, you can *explore* places you plan to go before you even leave the house. It's easy to see how this would make things like shopping and navigating through large airports more efficient.
Best Buy - Williston, VT Indoor Map
Let's take a look at an example, if you wanted to look at new car stereo equipment at Best Buy, but you didn't know where that department was in the store, you could review the "Indoor Map" on Google Maps before you leave home and save yourself the time you'd have wasted wandering around inside the store. Take a look at how Best Buy in Williston, VT looks on Google Maps:
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Sticking with my car audio example, you can see that this indoor map allows you to see that the "Mobile Electronics" department is located in the back left corner of the building. Now when you arrive at the store you'd be able to quickly make your way to that department, do your shopping, and then leave.
Home Depot - Williston, VT Indoor Map
How about another example, but this time for the non-audio/videophiles out there? Unsurprisingly, there aren't a lot of examples of Google Indoor Maps in the Champlain Valley yet, but after some digging I did manage to find one more in our area, and its appeal is a little more universal - Home Depot. A lot of Vermonters may prefer to avoid the "big box" stores, but no one would deny that these stores are here and thousands of people shop in them regularly, and Home Depot carries products that can be used by homeowners, renters, builders and all types of contractors. Clearly "home centers" are a great candidate for Google Indoor Maps, given their size. I can't be the only one who's wandered aimlessly around one of these places for 15 minutes? Anyway, take a look at the indoor maps treatment of Home Depot in Williston:
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Imagine you're someone who only pops into Home Depot on occasion, just when you need something specific - not to shop around. Now imagine you're at the store looking for something basic like a wall outlet faceplate or a replacement flex pipe for under your kitchen sink. Now you can use indoor maps to see that the electrical and plumbing sections are in the back of the store, but without this information you're left searching around the store or trying to flag down one of the employees who always seem to be busy helping some other poor lost soul.
Nashville International Airport Indoor Map
Unfortunately BTV airport hasn't been indoor mapped yet, but I thought you should at least see an example of an indoor airport map, so allow me to indulge in a little nostalgia as I show you Nashville International:
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What's particularly interesting in this example are the variety of different indoor maps icons used. Best Buy and Home Depot each had some question marks (which I assume means the cartographer didn't know what those departments were?) and little male/female icons which identify the public restrooms. Best Buy actually had a couple of other icons as well, but I'm not sure what they were for. Nashville International Airport's indoor map, on the other hand, shows probably a dozen or more different icons. As cool as this is though, it's also incredibly frustrating because it's also unclear what many of these markers mean. In fact they're so small that I can't even identify the images on most of them, much less interpret what they mean! And you can't zoom in any closer or you're taken to street view and the curbside drop-off out front of the airport. At the very least, I think a map legend should appear when you're viewing an indoor map. Although a legend wouldn't help the issue of the text labels being as tiny and difficult to read as the map markers.
Getting back to the positive, it is nice that they have all of the restaurants, businesses, etc. labeled but arguably more useful are the gate number labels. If you've flown much, you know how huge some airports can be so it can be helpful to have an idea where you'll be boarding your plane so you can plan ahead. Obviously if your gate is at the far end of a long terminal, you'd want to show up to the airport earlier than you other wise would have. You also might opt pack dress clothes to wear comfortable shoes and clothing if you've got a long hike to your gate. With any luck, the airports of your connecting flights will also have indoor maps so you can really plan ahead.
One other downside I do want to point out about these maps is the lack of interactivity, at least in the desktop versions. It's great that you can see all of the labels of different businesses, departments, etc. but it would be nice if you could view more information by clicking on any of them. The funny thing is, the non-"indoor map" version of Burlington International does contain markers for the gates and they are interactive and each have their own Google Places/+ Local pages, odd as that might sound. Ever had a gate agent like this?
Well, if it happened at Gate 11 @ BTV (or any other gate) you can leave a review and tell the world about your experience - thanks to Google Places! I actually find this a little strange (local listings for gates), but Google Maps will always be room for improvement.
Google Indoor Maps on iOS?
I read back in December that several features, including "Indoor Maps" wouldn't be included in the initial launch of the Google Maps for iOS app, but I had hoped it would be added by now. I just checked and sadly it hasn't been added and I have the most up to date version of the app. So for the time being, those of us with iPhones can't use the Google Maps app to meet up with friends or search for "indoor" points of interest, etc. Still, I found a way to sort-of use indoor maps on my iPhone. If you view a map in your browser (rather than the app) you can get essentially the desktop versions of the indoor maps. You don't get the advanced features that Android phone users do through the app, but at least if you're lost in the mall, trying to navigate an airport or looking for a department in a large home center, you can pull up the indoor map on your phone.
Anyway, these indoor maps are great, but clearly they're a work in progress. I'll be interested to try out some of the additional functionality once the iOS app catches up with the Droid app. Until then, I'll explore how to upload my own Floor Plan maps to Google and I'll write a separate post about that, assuming I'm successful. In the meantime, let me know in the comments below if I missed any other interesting VT indoor maps. As I said, Best Buy and Home Depot were the only two I could find, but I have to believe there are some others, no?