JF: We are hyper conscious of making sure that when we introduce ads into the maps experience we’re doing in a way that is useful and that is additive to the experience and not a distraction or something that’s going to get in your way. I think that’s why we’ve been somewhat slow and deliberate in the ways that we’ve added ads into the experience. We’re conscious that there are moments where you’re you’re driving or you’re walking or doing other sort of safety-critical things. I think we take that responsibility to be mindful of our users’ attention really seriously.
Having said that, we also know that a lot of what people are increasingly doing in the context of maps are things that are inherently commercial activities, right? [They’re] deciding what businesses to go visit or transact with next. Or looking for a local service business that can come help them with a given task. I could give you more examples, but you get the idea. We do see that there is potential to, in a thoughtful utility-focused way, have ads continue to play in the broader maps experience. But we’re very mindful of doing that in a way that is, like I said both respectful of users attention and actually adding to the experience.
LG: How do you feel Apple is doing in maps right now?
JF: I don’t feel like I’m in the best position to comment on how they’re doing. I think we focus on a couple things. One is building a maps experience that works great for everyone regardless of the platform they’re on, so we want to make sure that our map product works well across Android and iOS and any place else that our users are. I can’t think of a point in time in history when there’s only been one canonical map of the world. So I think it’s not a bad thing to have multiple representations of the world out there. What we try to focus on is, how do we build the best possible map, the best possible experience, and then how do we make sure that that’s available for anyone, anywhere, who wants to use it.
LG: Is there anything you would say you think Apple is doing well in maps right now?
JF: You know, I think they’re in the process of making some updates to their maps and getting those rolled out more broadly, and I think time will tell how that does.
LG: So, augmented reality. You said a couple of years ago in an interview with Fast Company that you feel like that the mental process of walking and navigating is still a problem, that it’s something that needs to be fixed. And you felt as though AR was going to help in some way. How are you feeling about the AR product in Google Maps? Has it done this?
JF: I think we had a hypothesis going into the AR-based walking navigation effort that it would be most helpful for people when they were in very unfamiliar settings, in a travel kind of scenario. And I think we’ve seen that to be the case. Talking within the team, a lot of us have anecdotal experience of saying, “Oh my gosh, I went to city X or city Y and this really helped me handle those moments of just getting out of the subway or coming out of a hotel and seeing how I get to where I’m going.” But I think if you look at the units or early data that we have, it lines up with that. We’re seeing heavy usage for people who are sort of far from home.
I think we’re still in early days in terms of AR. We had to do a lot of pretty groundbreaking technical work just to get an experience like that to even work, and to work at the scale that it does. And I also think that experience helps with a portion of the problem, right? We’re also thinking about other ways that walking can fundamentally be improved.