Google Maps Is Introducing Augmented Reality Navigation In Airports, But Is It Useful?

It’s hard to recall when our smartphones weren’t the most useful navigation tool in our arsenal (Mapquest printouts, who?). Google Maps is always looking for ways to improve its navigation while its map apps are already impressive. The tech giant revealed last week that the software would be enhanced with augmented reality (AR) indoor navigation, allowing users to find their way around public spaces such as airports and shopping malls.

With “Indoor Live View,” your phone’s camera will provide walking directions that are overlaid onto the image of your surroundings in real-time, like sunglasses from a spy film. Google has had this feature available for outdoor navigation in cities since 2019. (Open Google Maps, choose your destination, and click “Live View.”). However, this is the first time Google has brought AR navigation indoors.

While I haven’t yet tested out an airport that currently supports Indoor Live View – Google is slowly rolling out the update throughout the year – I have tested out the standard Live View feature in New York City to see how helpful it is. To be honest, I’m not completely sold.

As soon as you choose Live View in Google Maps and enter your destination, your camera opens, and the app asks you to point it at signs or buildings across the street so it can orient itself. After the camera determines where you are, big arrows appear within the image and indicate where you should go. It looks pretty cool, I must admit.

However, I find navigating with your phone in front of your face an incredibly clunky experience. By staring at your screen, you are less likely to be aware of everything going on around you; you could easily step in dog poop, step into a sidewalk cellar door, or worse, step off the curb and be hit by a car or a bike. (There’s a good reason experts say texting while walking is dangerous.) At an airport, you may accidentally bump into someone’s suitcase if they cut you off-not dangerous, but definitely not ideal.

In my opinion, Live View indoors and out is ideal for orienting yourself in a new place. While a native New Yorker might be able to pop out of the subway and immediately tell which way is north, a visitor might need some assistance. Then you can switch back to standard navigation using the map, where Live View can guide you in the right direction.

However, will travelers find AR navigation helpful when orienting themselves at an airport? I’m not so sure. The signage at airports is meticulously designed to make navigating gates and key destinations like baggage claim a breeze. As a result, Live View may be redundant. You’ll likely be able to find where you need to go faster if you walk to a sign than if you use AR navigation. One exception: if you’re looking for specific stores, restaurants, or lounges that aren’t necessarily marked on airport signs, Live View may work wonders.

(Keep in mind that some airlines, including Delta, have several complex navigation systems embedded into their apps, so if you’re not into augmented reality, you can stick to two-dimensional navigation!)
Google’s Indoor Live View feature has some positives, but I doubt I will use it at the airport anytime soon. For me, personally, wandering airports is half of the fun! Perhaps you should ask me again when I’m making a tight connection in an airport I’ve never been to…