Google Maps updates help you cope with the pandemic

Google has announced a handful of improvements coming to Google Maps including updates to its COVID overlay, takeout ordering features, and real-time crowdedness information for public transport. Alongside them, the company says the Google Assistant driving mode, which gives you access to features like voice controls for music while you’re driving, is launching in preview in the US.

The Google Assistant driving mode was first announced back at Google I/O 2019 and was spotted rolling out on some Android devices last month. The mode offers voice controls for features like phone calls and media playback from inside the Maps navigation screen, so you can access them while keeping your eyes on the road. These include being able to read out new messages from different messaging apps, answer phone calls, and play media from services like Spotify, YouTube Music, and Google Podcasts. Google says users will have the option of enabling the mode via a pop up in Maps, or else from the Google Assistant settings.

Next up are improvements to the COVID-19 overlay for Google Maps which launched back in September. In the coming weeks it’s adding more information to it across Android and iOS, including details about the amount of cases detected in total in an area, as well as links to COVID information provided by local authorities. Google says this could help you find information about local rules and regulations when you’re travelling.

There are improvements coming to the information Google Maps shows about how crowded public transport is. Google says Maps can now show you how crowded public transport is in real time, helping you avoid a particular train or bus route if it’s going to be difficult to socially distance. It uses feedback from Google Maps users, and will be available on Android and iOS globally. The feature builds on the predictive crowdedness information Google first started offering last year.

Google Maps is also showing more information about takeout food from inside the app on iOS and Android, after adding the ability to place food orders directly last year. It can now show delivery prediction times, or when a meal is ready to be picked up from a restaurant. Google says the feature is rolling out in the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil and India.

Google says it’s added almost 250 new features to Maps this year since the start of the pandemic, with many designed to help people get around in an era of new health regulations and social distancing. These have included alerts about face-covering rules on public transport, as well as warnings to call ahead to a doctor if you think you have COVID-19.