Google has launched its map service in SA, providing detailed map information, driving and walking directions, transport data, and a range of other services.
Ahead of the 2010 soccer World Cup, the US Internet company has also provided a range of services specifically tailored for international tourists. These include a foreign-language version of the SA maps. The service allows tourists to plan their holidays.
“If you were using Maps two days ago, you will see a greatly different site today,” says Google SA country manager, Stephen Newton.
There are roughly 30 countries worldwide that have their own Google Maps Internet domain, or Web address. SA is the second country in Africa to receive the service, after Kenya.
The service allows businesses, including restaurants, to list their business information free of charge. And users can upload a wide range of information, including photos and live webcams.
Jaroslav Bengi, product manager for Google Maps in Europe and Africa, says a range of improvements have been introduced to the SA maps, which were previously unavailable.
SA now has its own landing page at maps.google.co.za — it no longer defaults to the US view — and searches are assumed to be local, not global.
Google has introduced a range of clever search tools that will help both tourists and local users. For example, a search for “restaurants near Nelson Mandela Square Sandton” will return a list of restaurants in the area. Or a search for “pizza Randburg” will list pizzerias in Randburg.
Users can then click on specific restaurants to get detailed information about the establishment, including user reviews, menus and even photographs.
Once a user has decided which restaurant to eat at, he can get driving or walking directions from their current location.
The new Google Maps service is also available on a range of mobile phones via Google’s mobile application.
Google has extended its “application programming interface” to the SA maps , allowing people to embed Google Maps on their websites. This service is likely to prove popular for real estate agents and other businesses that rely on map data.
Google’s highly anticipated Street View service, which provides a street-level view, will be launched in SA before the World Cup, Jaroslav says. Streets in five SA cities are being photographed using special cameras mounted to a fleet of Toyota Priuses. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral