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Experimental Google Maps feature puts arrows over images of the real world so you can’t get lost

Google Google Maps AR directions.

Google Maps has an experimental new feature on iPhone and Android that shows you exactly where to walk when trying to get to a destination.

While it's fine on a phone, it's more interesting as a vision of the future. It shows one way augmented reality glasses — which superimpose computer images over the real world — could actually be useful.

Google was early to the idea with Google Glass, which launched in 2013. It received a lot of negative attention because of its odd style and video cameras and never took off as a consumer product, but is still being used in some businesses.

But a lot of other companies are working on the problem, imagining that augmented reality glasses could someday replace smartphones.

Microsoft just released the second version of its Hololens, and start-up Magic Leap released a version of its glasses for software developers last year. Apple is betting big on augmented reality on its iPhones, and is reportedly building AR glasses that could enter mass production this year.

I used the new Google Maps feature, which isn't yet available for everyone, to walk to a coffee shop downtown. Instead of having to figure out the exact roads I was supposed to walk on, and in what direction, the AR feature pointed the way and even showed me exactly where I needed to go. It's only for walking directions, since the maps in your car and other places can already tell you if you're heading the right way.

It's amazing. Here's what using Google Maps AR is like.

First, you search for where you're going. I picked a bakery.

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

Then I chose walking directions.

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

Next, I tapped this new "Start AR" button that's in Google Maps.

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

I lifted my phone up, it recognized exactly where I was, and pointed me in the right direction with huge arrows.

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

So I started walking. Here it shows where the bakery is relative to me. Right ahead!

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

Then I got a warning that said I should keep my phone down while I walk. It's blurry because it disappears when I stopped walking and was hard to photograph.

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

I kept walking and purposefully went the wrong way. Google redirected in a flash. It's virtually impossible to get lost.

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

Then I made it. Google told me I had arrived.

Using the AR feature in Google Maps Todd Haselton | CNBC Using the AR feature in Google Maps

And here's my scone.

A chocolate chip scone from the bakery. Todd Haselton | CNBC A chocolate chip scone from the bakery.

That's the gist of it. Google can point you along the way if you get lost but, in general, you're supposed to keep your head up while you walk, and only check the app if you get lost. Google just points the way.

One day, when we have smart glasses on our heads, Google and other companies will be able to tell us exactly where we're going right inside the lenses. And since we're already looking up, we won't need to worry about walking into anything.

Microsoft's new HoloLens 2 augmented reality headset Hands on with the Microsoft HoloLens 2

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