Earlier this year, at Google’s May developer conference, the company announced that Google Maps search and turn-by-turn navigation will be available offline. Today it’s starting to roll out this capability to Android users and later to iOS.
Users will be able to search Maps offline and get directions with a weak or non-existent connection:
You can download an area by searching for a city, county or country, for instance, and tapping “Download” on the resulting place sheet, or by going to “Offline Areas” in the Google Maps menu and tapping on the “+” button. Once downloaded, Google Maps will move into offline mode automatically when it recognizes you’re in a location with spotty service or no connectivity at all. When a connection is found, it will switch back online so you can easily access the full version of Maps, including live traffic conditions for your current route.
I had previously, mistakenly, been under the impression that no user download was required — apparently there is. Maps users will need to download the desired Maps area for later access. Despite this, the new capability is a much improved and expanded version of much more limited “offline” functionality.
Beyond driving directions, users will get full access to Google content in Maps for the downloaded geographic area. That includes contact information, ratings and business hours.
Nokia has had similar capabilities in place for several years, but HERE maps was recently sold to a consortium of German car makers. It’s not entirely clear whether they’ll continue to invest in that feature.
One interesting thing to speculate about is whether Google will seek to expand these offline capabilities beyond Maps to other Google products like core search. Facebook has a major initiative for the developing world, trying to adapt the user experience to 2G and unreliable connections.
Offline Maps may well be a first step in a similar push by Google.
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