New Google Maps for the iPhone makes traffic harder to see
A little-noticed change in Apple's recent update to its mobile operating system was that, in the built-in Google Maps application, road traffic is displayed a bit differently.
Instead of solid bars of red, green and yellow (indicators of the severity of traffic), the bars are now semi-transparent, no doubt to allow users to see underlying street and business names that the solid bars had blocked -- a useful improvement in theory.
But as the color bars go from opaque to transparent, they also become washed out, so that fire engine red becomes more pinkish, and lime green fades to sea foam. Indeed, the traffic bars have literally half-disappeared.
The muted colors make it more difficult to evaluate traffic conditions at a glance -- one of the great features of Google Maps for Mobile. And when you're driving on a busy freeway, a glance is all you can afford.
Worse yet, color-blind folks such as myself need all the help we can get when it comes to differentiating reds and greens, and that goes triple for when we're driving. Without the more intense shades, we find ourselves squinting to try and tell the difference. On the Google Maps app, the higher traffic color lines (red and yellow) sort of pulsate, indicating trouble. But in order to notice the pulsing, you have to watch the screen closely for several seconds. In traffic, that's a no-no.
It seems that in an effort to make its maps more readable, Google has made them less readable. Personally, I was happy with the "Hide Traffic" button when I needed to see a street name, but maybe Google can still find a smart -- and colorful -- solution this problem.
Neither Google nor Apple has yet responded to a request for comment on this issue.
-- David Sarno