In early February, Google announced a large Local Guide test of generative AI on mobile Google Maps. Initially only available on Android, it's now available for iOS and I have been able to get a sense of the capabilities. As we noted in our newsletter, it appears to be SGE bolted into mobile Google Maps.

Great Expectations

It is, like SGE, still a little slow and verbose. Although neither is a death knell, as speed issues will be overcome and Google will better calibrate the verbosity. The battle will be won or lost on the hill of usefulness. As David Mihm has pointed out in our conversations, with Google's large knowledge graph of businesses and their humongous corpus of reviews and Q &A, a product like this has the potential to take Maps to new heights and largely replace search as a primary user interface for many daily life tasks.

Like the "ad" said, this "experimental capability introduces a whole new way for people to more easily discover places and explore the world with Maps. This is just the beginning of how we’re supercharging Maps with generative AI." While interesting, it has a way to go.

I have friends visiting for our annual cross-country weekend and so far there is no snow. I thought I would ask for ideas of outdoor activities that would be interesting.

Like Search but Slower

The suggestions were not bad but the answers didn't really provide outdoor activities and had no sense of upcoming weather or the lack of snow. Its suggestions were not of much use as it was missing critical context that it could know. I followed up with additional information and was explicit about the absence of snow, and that we usually cross-country ski, but still got a mediocre answer.

I then asked for "great Asian food in Buffalo NY." Its answer was informative but not much different than what Google search provided in a fraction of the time.

With Valentine's Day approaching (and me being on the cheap side) I next asked for help finding "upscale nouveau meal with a romantic environment that costs less than $50 per person." No go on that one. While I do think there is such a place in Buffalo, Maps AI wasn't able to even make a guess.

So I asked again for NYC. While I did get some upscale food places, none of them came in under $50 despite AI's promise that there was such a thing. The AI just hallucinated and provided a number of places where I could drop $300 or $400 per head. I would have hoped for a response that said: You are too cheap but I can find you something for $100 a head, would that do?

More Fluff, Fewer Ads

The promise of AI within Maps is huge. This first roll-out, while interesting, provides little of value beyond what search and Maps currently provide – and does so at a slower pace with more fluff, though fewer ads. I didn't compare Maps + AI results to search results to see how much variation there was, but a cursory review indicates they're very similar.

Will Google Maps with AI provide a better, more fulfilling experience? Potentially yes, but not today.