Google Maps Feature Helps Hunt Down Phone Thief

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Google Maps is often considered the best mobile navigation app on the platform, and people use it to find directions to a specific address or explore the world from the comfort of their smartphone.
Someone in India used Google Maps with a completely different purpose. They relied on the location data provided by the navigation application to track down the thief of their father's smartphone, eventually alerting the police and catching the criminal hours later.

Raj Bhagat P. explains on X (formerly Twitter) that his father was traveling from Nagercoil to Trichy in the sleeper class when someone boarded the same almost empty train. It didn't take long before the stranger stole his dad's bag and mobile phone, eventually deboarding in Tirunelveli Junction.

Several hours later, his father contacted them from a friend's phone, letting them know about the theft and asking for help.

It was the moment Raj Bhagat turned to Google Maps to track down the thief. His father enabled location sharing in Google Maps to let his son see where he was in real time. After the theft, the feature continued to broadcast the phone's location, so the hunt for the thief kicked off with help from the railway police.

Google Maps location sharing
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
Raj Bhagat detailed every step in posts on X, explaining that the thief eventually got lost in the crowd, but his location was exposed again thanks to Google Maps. Minutes later, they managed to track him down again, with Raj approaching him at the Anna bus stand. He spotted his father's bag, and using other people in the bus station, they caught the thief and called the police.

Upon a detailed search conducted by law enforcement, the man turned out to be a serial thief, as he stole (and ingested) other electronics, including Bluetooth earphones.

The location-sharing support is integrated into Google Maps to allow users to let others know where they are, being available on both Android and iPhone.

However, several other applications come with support for sharing the live location, including WhatsApp, the world's number one messaging service. WhatsApp allows users to share their current location or the live location directly in the conversation screen.

Google Maps also offers permanent location sharing, though most users enable it temporarily, typically until they arrive at a destination. The feature lets users share their location with someone who has a Google account, so they can view the data directly in Google Maps (if the app is installed on the mobile device) or with a non-Google user, in which case the sharing is powered by a link which opens in the web-based version of Google Maps.

The new Google Maps UI
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution

Google Maps keeps evolving

Google keeps refining Google Maps, adding new capabilities that improve its navigation and non-navigation capabilities.

One of the subtle but very useful improvements coming to Google Maps is support for 3D buildings on Android Auto. The application already offers such a layer on mobile devices, but Google is now working on bringing the same interface to Android Auto.

The feature is now rolling out to users worldwide, though the behavior seems to be different, still requiring additional polishing. For example, the 3D buildings are enabled only in the light theme for some, while others see it exclusively in the dark mode. However, once the 3D buildings land on your device, they are enabled by default, with Google Maps sporting a new toggle under the settings screen to let users disable it.

Google Maps is also getting more innovative capabilities that aren't directly related to navigation, including Immersive View. Announced two years ago, Immersive View is one of the biggest updates received by the app in the last few years, allowing users to explore the world using a multi-dimensional view comprising satellite imagery, street-level photos, and other details, including the weather forecast.

The new Google Maps UI
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
The feature is only available in limited regions, considering the overwhelming amount of data involved in creating the multi-dimensional view, with Google promising to bring it to more locations in the coming years.

Immersive View has also evolved to include additional capabilities as Immersive View for routes. With this component, the feature allows users to preview routes before they begin driving, offering a quick look at every turn with realistic details, including buildings and trees. Eventually, drivers can get more familiar with their routes before they begin the journey, so Immersive View for routes helps make every trip safer and more predictable.

Google Maps is currently the world's top mobile navigation app, dominating this space on Android and iPhone, despite the latter coming with a native alternative. However, Google Maps is considered the more feature-complete alternative to Apple Maps, especially as it includes extra capabilities, such as satellite navigation. Apple Maps offers satellite maps, too, but this view is disabled when navigation is enabled. Until recently, Apple Maps lacked offline maps, too, though the feature was introduced with the release of iOS 17.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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