In the summer of 2009, Google released City Tours to it’s “labs”. Google Labs is where Google places potential new services and tools for testing and improvement before launch. It’s now a year and a half later and City Tours is still stuck inside Labs, though many features have been implemented within Google Maps.
What Google City Tours Does
Google City Tours is in essence an interactive map that allows you to plan your walking route, itinerary and print your guide, plus a little more on the side. Whether you are looking for a single day walk or a walk lasting 5 days, Google has several routes in most major cities. From these you can add and delete attractions, view more suggested attractions of interest and also plan how long you will be at a location so that you can plan your day. And of course like many mapping services you simply enter the town name and/or country to find a suggested route for your walk.
Now this sounds just like lots of other systems we have talked about in the past such as the WalkIt Urban Walk Planner. However the twist is this is Google and there are a bunch more features within City Tours.
One great feature of City Tours is that when you plan a route you set a date, from this date Google will take into account when attractions open and close meaning you never turn up to a closed attraction. Google will also show (via a little dot) other attractions near by, which means if they are on your path you can stop by or maybe simply add them to your itinerary. Another important factor is the huge volume of data Google can use, this means if they list an attraction you can get details on this attraction and see what it looks like with Google StreetView in Google Places. Another feature is that you set your start and finish location, even for pre-planned routes you can change this location and Google will plan around you, this is a handy feature I haven’t seen in many places.
Is it perfect? No
But there are a few bugs in the system. For all the lovely walks Google has pre-set there are a few with bizarre routes. Such as an 88 minute walk between 2 locations, this isn’t bad in countryside but I’d not expect to see this on a sightseeing map unless you had put it there in your own planning. Another issue is the current inability to save a map, you have to print the map and directions … no second chances right now, this is the same when you plan a trip using Google Maps and I dare say it is a choice Google have made. However on Google Maps you can send the map and plan to someone via email or via a web link, this is something that I hope to see on City Tours as it is quite useful. Also this is a service that seems to be available only in the main towns and cities, and not in rural locations.
Should you use it?
In all honesty I could not tell you to use just one or another mapping system, they all have features that the others don’t and they all have limitations to some degree. This said I feel Google City Tours is just a few features off beating it’s competitors, If you could save a map more easily, send it to a friend or even just print it more readily then Google would win hands down. But I think City Tours is more than just about mapping your route.
Does Google City Tours have a future?
City Tours for me has a huge future. Imagine you are walking down the street smartphone or GPS in hand and a guided tour of the city on your screen, pointing out cafés and more attractions of interest. Also maybe even giving you magically coupon codes for discounts in shops you are passing, so not only do you get to see the city but you save cash too! Another use for such a map would be for public transit usage, tracking where transport is and updating (for instance) bus stops via a map showing the location of the 5 nearest buses. Another addition Google could make to this service, should it become an application, would be adding a walking tour guide similar to Walk Talk Tours or Tourist Tracks. The possible uses of this kind of service are pretty much unlimited and I can’t wait to see where Google takes this service in the future.