Google has rolled out a walking directions feature in its mapping product, previously available to few users in a limited rollout (as the company often tests new products or features). This was first offered by AskCity in 2006, but then the market was once again deprived of the functionality when it killed its homegrown mapping product.
Now Google has given it back to us. This will be a welcome add on to the mapping product that will clearly help users in urban areas find the best way to walk somewhere. The difference between walking and driving directions often comes down to the presence of one-way streets, highways or traffic conditions.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of driving directions and walking directions between the same two points.
The new feature doesn’t appear to be available yet on the Google Maps native iPhone application. But that’s where it could really shine, given that on-the-go urban users are more likely to need walking directions than stationary PC users.
I was in this very situation last week in Boston, trying to get from Boston Common to Fenway on foot (same scenario replicated above). The walking route I figured out using Google Maps on the iPhone was much more direct than the driving directions it suggested. This was mostly due to one-way streets.
But this required that I ignore the suggested directions and miss out on the application’s turn-by-turn directions feature and instead examine the map closely to find my own, more direct, walking route. This also required standing on street corners in a very touristy way, while I leered at my iPhone, turning the map around constantly to get my bearings.
A feature that gives you turn-by-turn directions for the most direct walking route would alleviate this process and better fit the iPhone use case. Given the early competition for local iPhone applications, we’ll likely see it soon from Google (and others).