Google Maps' Indoor Directions Aren't Quite There, Yet

Headed in the wrong direction

Key Takeaways

  • Google Maps’ latest feature provides indoor directions in places like malls, airports, and train stations. 
  • Graphics laid over the Live View and directions provided out loud help you navigate to a specific place inside these public spaces. 
  • The feature could use some improvements before it offers any real benefits to users.
Overhead view of someone holding a smartphone displaying a navigation map.

Willie B. Thomas / Getty Images

Google Maps’ new indoor guidance could prove helpful, but it still has some kinks to work out before users benefit. 

This week, Google Maps introduced updates to its app, including directions inside public places like malls, airports, and train stations. As someone who gets turned around quite often inside large public buildings, I was excited to try this new feature in person at a local mall. 

While Google Maps has proved itself to be a top-tier navigation app, it still has a ways to go for its indoor directions to meet the same quality as its regular directions. 

The indoor directions only work when you are standing still, so every few feet, I had to stop walking, point my phone in front of me to allow the app to scan my surroundings.

Finding the Way 

Right now, the new feature is only available in certain malls in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle. I live in Chicago, so I made a quick trip to one of the confirmed malls that have started to use this new feature. 

The tech itself isn’t new: Google’s Live View came out in 2019 and uses artificial intelligence cues to understand your orientation. I’ve never used the Live View feature on the streets before, so this was my first foray into using this Google tech. 

I first used the feature to help me find an ATM within the mall. As with anything on Google Maps, you type 'ATM' in the search bar, pick the one you want to go to, and click 'Get Directions." To use the indoor directions with Live View, you have to switch your mode of transportation to walking and click the Live View option at the bottom. 

The app asks you to hold up your phone to scan the area around you to see where you are within the public space, then tells you which direction to start walking.

Screenshots from the Google Maps app showing indoor directions.

The directions are given out loud and appear as graphics over the Live View itself, which helps you see where you will be going next. It even tells you how many feet you have left to walk before the next directional step. 

However, the indoor directions only work when you are standing still, so every few feet, I had to stop walking, point my phone in front of me to allow the app to scan my surroundings, and see how far I had to keep going.

I can see how walking blindly just looking at your phone and not your surroundings could pose some danger, but stopping every few feet to see the directions was annoying and just as cumbersome to people around me. 

The app took me a very roundabout way to get to the ATM, and when I did get there, there was no ATM, only a Noodles and Company.

At a second glance on the map, I saw the ATM was still at least 1,000 feet away, even though the app said I had arrived at the ATM. I did end up finding the ATM on my own, without help from the indoor directions. 

The second time I tried the directions, I had it take me to a specific store, which seemed to work much more accurately than the ATM fiasco. 

Is It Worth It? 

Google Maps’ indoor directions still have quite a few kinks to work out. For one, you need strong internet service for it to work correctly, and in many crowded public places, the internet service is spotty.

Two people using walking directions on a map on a smartphone.

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Also, the graphics that show up on screen didn't always show up, sometimes leaving you hanging. 

Another issue I had with the feature was that you had to stop every few feet to see the directions in front of you. I can’t imagine stopping every few minutes, staring at my phone in a crowded airport where people behind you are most likely in a rush and have places to be. 

While I can see the value of this feature in airports or train stations (once the kinks are worked out), I can't really see its value at malls, which already have laid-out directories and are pretty simple to navigate on your own. 

Overall, while the mall directions were so-so, I’d like to see how this feature holds up in a more crowded and busy place like an airport, but Google needs to make some improvements before it opens up the feature to these places.

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