Caption: An image of a phone of a blue background that shows the commute tab on Google Maps showing delays on a route to work.
Last week, we announced the commute tab on Google Maps—a new feature that helps you avoid the stress of daily travel. With just a tap, you can see live traffic and transit information tailored to your commute. We’ll tell you when to leave and recommend alternative routes if there’s bad traffic or delays. Public transit riders in 80 cities worldwide will also be able to see exactly where their bus or train is on the map.
To learn more about the work that goes into launching an exciting new feature like this one, we interviewed Ramesh Nagarajan, a product lead on Maps, who spearheaded the project.
What inspired you to launch the commute tab on Google Maps?
Over a billion people commute weekly. Based on the extensive user research we have done, to better understand people’s commutes across multiple cities around the world (and coupled with our own experiences), we know that commuters face many problems and have unique needs that Maps didn’t do enough to support.
So, we set out to address many of these needs and build features that commuters can use daily. As commuters generally know how to get home or to work, we knew we had to go beyond directions to give them real-time info on disruptions, delays, and departures.
We also felt that building out the commute experience as a tab on the homepage of Maps would help put the rich experience we have front and center. That way, it’s really easy for people to access this information with one tap.
Why was music integration an important feature to include?
Our research showed that a lot of people viewed the time they spent on their commutes as “dead time” and the experience they had on their commute directly translated to how they felt the rest of that day. So we wanted to see if we could make their commute more enjoyable and productive even when sitting in traffic.
The first step towards that goal was the music integration. Drivers get alerts on traffic conditions, accidents, and other incidents that affect their trip while using live navigation on Maps. So building music controls into the navigation screen made it quick and easy to manage their music, while also letting them focus on the road.
Caption: An image of a phone on a blue background that shows the new music controls on Google Maps.What were some of the challenges you faced while developing the commute tab?
We faced a number of interesting logistical, technical, and product challenges while building the commute tab and its related commute features.
On the product and technical side one of the most complicated things we did was around adding support for mixed mode commutes—trips that combine driving, cycling, or transit in one journey.
One common example of a mixed mode commute is driving to a transit station, parking and then using commuter rail to get to work. We wanted to make sure we accommodate these types of trips and had to do extensive technical changes to our routing engine, station lookup, and other infrastructure to model these commutes and provide users with accurate ETAs. All that on top of providing info on any disruptions or delays that might affect the whole journey.
One of the other interesting challenges wasn’t technical, but about localization. The word “commute” does not exist in all languages. We are using “daily trips” in its place with the additional requirement that it has to be relatively short to fit below icons and as part of titles.
What’s one thing you learned while working on this project? We learned lots of things about people’s commutes, especially about how long and varied they are. For example, in North America, on average, people spend over an hour each day on their commute which roughly translates to the equivalent of a two-week vacation spent commuting every year. We also learned that people use multiple transport modes, or change modes depending on things like weather.
Some even use interesting modes like this one lady who we interviewed as part of our research who uses a unicycle to get to work everyday!
Anything else you’d like to add?
This is just the beginning of our investments in making people’s commutes better. We have a lot more to come that will let us support more varied types of commutes (such as folks who have multiple destinations they commute to, e.g. school some days, work on others), more types of commute modes (two-wheelers, rideshare, etc.) as well as other improvements that we hope will take the stress out of the commute and help our users get to work or home in the ideal way.
The new commute features are now rolling out globally on Android and iOS. To get started, be sure to download or update your Google Maps app from theApp StoreorPlay Store. To learn how to set up your commute, visit our Help Center.