Since Google Maps debuted, the attention and praise Google has achieved is impressive. The praise is not unwarranted. Maps is a very impressive web application. It makes Yahoo! and Mapquest look like…web sites.
And so, discussions have bounced around the Internet about why Maps is so darn good. The general sentiment is that it’s so easy to use. Kottke put it best. Leaps in user experience are, in fact, innovation. By bridging the chasm between machines and people, people react to it – almost emotionally at times. There’s a sense of connectedness to the product that goes beyond just basic use.
Under the hood, Maps is using some very impressive technology. It’s safe to say that only a handful of companies can reproduce what Google has done with Maps. I would even argue that the overall usability with Google Maps isn’t that great. I can’t print out directions. The Back button has gone to hell. There are other issues as well. Once I got past the “ooh ahh” phase of playing around with it, I went back to Yahoo! for driving directions.
Nevertheless, people are very impressed. Simply put, no other web mapping site feels this way. It is responsive and easy to digest. And so, perception shifts. Google’s brand is enhanced. Regardless of whether Mapquest or Yahoo! more accurately nail the use cases that drive this kind of software, the damage is done. This merging of whiz-bang technology (zooming and dragging maps, satellite imagery, etc.) and decent usability results in a benefit to Google that goes beyond just making users happy. You can’t underestimate the impact a “toy” like this has on the perception of the Google brand.
And so, for interface designers, as well as the shops that are focused on creating richer interfaces, you can thank Google for another bullet on your brochures: enhance your brand perception with better user experiences.