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Google Maps has some new tricks to avoid people this holiday season

Where have these been all my life?

google maps area busyness notification
Image: KnowTechie

The shopping season this year feels muted to me, with out-of-stock notices and the ever-present specter of COVID-19 wherever you look. That means I’m doing all of my holiday shopping online, but if I were venturing out of my self-imposed exile, I’d be happy with the new tools that Google is stuffing into Maps.

The most useful tool for those who are (justifiably) worried about crowds is the expansion of the Area Busyness score to the Maps app.

This feature lets you tap on neighborhoods and see which ones are crowded so that you can either head into the madness or avoid it like the literal plague.

It’s similar to the graph you see on businesses and restaurants that show the busy times, but for a wider area. Combine that with the existing transit busyness scores, and you’ve got everything you need to avoid the crush.

Speaking of avoiding people, the pilot test of Fred Meyers curbside grocery shopping through Google Maps was a success, so it’s being expanded. Now over 2,000 stores from the Kroger Family organization, including Kroger, Fry’s, Ralphs, and Marianos, are getting integrated into Maps.

That means when you order curbside, you can track your order in Maps, share your ETA with the store or let them know you’re parked out front. Perfect to avoid those confusing grocery store aisles.

Another update from Google shows additional restaurant info and will make budget-conscious diners happy. Now results in Maps will show the price ranges for US restaurants, provided by other Google Maps users.

The Directory tab is also being expanded, so it will show all airports, malls, and transit stations worldwide. Perfect for those last-minute gifts as you dash between connecting flights.

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