Perhaps I am going about this the wrong way but as my last post would indicate I feel our data supports that Google Maps is not lacking in any way aside presentation. Google Maps has plenty of functionality but it presents it in a rather cut and dry manner and gives no way obvious enough for people to immediately see its full capabilities. As a result Google Maps is used in a way that requires a certain amount of recall as opposed to recognition. To alleviate this problem it would seem that most changes would be largely aesthetic.
To get around our problem I would suggest at least three changes. These changes would really only be needed for the vanilla page, you could still customize it to its full extent once your user account is signed in but to be effective we need the options to be apparent for someone that is simply wanting directions and probably doesn’t care to log in or look around for features they may like. The most obvious addition would be to add a small area in some of the white space Google Maps has an abundance of that is obvious to a fault that you want directions from here to there. To that end we would largely want to do what MapQuest does and offer two boxes with multiple entries that would fill everything out needed to get from your point A to your point B. Yes Google Maps does this but a user more familiar with MapQuest would go to the site see a map and some text that is very easy to gloss over and not pay attention to and decide to go back to their staple. Giving this obvious section to the starting page of where to put the directions in helps by giving us a point to hook them. They can simply go hey big bright colored section says directions here and once they’ve gotten directions the chances are they will look around a little more.
To further the chances the user will see some of the less obvious but often fairly helpful features we would also want to offer a couple of sections also on the base page. One could be something as simple as a suggested feature/addon to the maps that cycles through very popular ones. I would honestly say, though have no numbers to back it up, that if I saw an addon that shows me where I would come out if I dug a hole straight through the world on the intial page I would be curious, check it out, and potentially look to see what other helpful and just plain amusing things this site can do. After you have peaked their interest it seems important to me to spell out the obvious and to do this we would want another obvious option off the front page of a tutorial on how you can customize Google Maps to suit your needs and save those changes to your Google Account. These three changes feel like a good step in the right direction to grab attention, hook the user, and then explain about other features.