Google Maps for Android gains downloadable maps

downloadable-google-maps

Google updated its Maps for Android software Wednesday, bringing a new feature for those who take public transportation, as well as some additional functions for everyone. Stop-by-stop Transit Navigation directions are now available for more than 400 cities around the globe. Search is improved; users gain faster access to directions; and photos now appear with Places. But I noticed one unannounced new Labs feature that could help consumers manage their mobile broadband usage: map downloads for offline use.

It’s possible the download area map function was part of the Labs experiment in a prior Maps version, but if so, I missed that news. And to be honest, it doesn’t matter to me when it arrived; it only matters that it has arrived. Why? Here in the U.S., the second of the big two network operators is dropping unlimited smartphone data plans and moving to a tiered business model. AT&T did this in June of last year, while Verizon Wireless¬†will be doing so July 7. Anyone on tiered data plans, especially heavy domestic travelers, can benefit from offline map downloads with the Labs feature.

 

After enabling it, I tested the Labs function on the Philadelphia area. It’s simple to use while online: After finding a place on the map, a quick tap of the “Download map area” option will download an 10 square mile map around the location. Downloading my test map over a standard 3G connection took just over a minute. Once I had the local area stored on my handset, I placed the phone in airplane mode to simulate an offline status. The locally downloaded area appeared as a black square in the map software and I was able to interact as normal by zooming in and panning around.

According to the Labs description, you won’t get anything more than a basic map with this option. That means no traffic data or satellite imagery, but all the street names will appear, as will major points of interest. While offline, this provides a usable way to navigate around the town without either a connection or a big paper map that never seems to fold up quite right. Again, this Labs feature may have slipped under my radar during a prior Maps release, but it’s good to see Google working on ways to make information available while offline:¬†something it said in December it would be doing for Maps on Android smartphones.

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