For years, Google Maps has been known to lead the digital mapping arena in terms of quality of data and features, both on desktop and mobile. Features like accurate transit directions and schedules, inclusion of local business listings and names on the map, and the vaguely stalker-ish Street View are reasons other map apps follow the search company’s lead. The latest Google Maps release, however, is looking toward the past and taking a note from analog maps: For the first time, Google Maps are now available offline on your smartphone.
Starting today on Android, Google is rolling out the ability to use the Maps app without a Wi-Fi signal or cell signal. Users can look up an area when their phone is connected to a data stream, hit the new “Download” option, and crop to select their preferred region, which the app will then store for offline use. Users can also hit the hamburger menu button to reveal the left-side menu, select Offline Map, and tap the plus symbol button.
The feature is being made available first to users of Android, Google’s mobile operating system, while owners of iPhones and other Apple iOS devices will have to until later this year. However, clever iOS users have developed a work-around in the meantime: the ability to cache Google’s maps for offline use in current versions by using the “ok maps” trick. But this offers only a limited static map dataset.
With the release of the official version, offline Google Maps users on Android are now able to get directions, turn-by-turn navigation, and the ability to search for establishments from within saved areas.
The ability to use Google Maps sans a data connection is an important feature for the app. Those whose turn-by-turn directions have taken them to an area with spotty coverage on a trip, or have to navigate the subway underground with no reception will now be able to make use of Google Maps’ newfound abilities.
We could see offline mode for Google Maps push other maps providers like Apple and Microsoft to up their topography game. Google’s cross-platform support coupled with features like offline mode putting the pressure on could lead to users across all devices more easily finding their way home.
But for now, the move further cements Google Maps’s lead as the most popular digital mapping service in the world, both against the insurgent Apple Maps, and lesser-known rivals like the open source OpenStreetMap, which has offered offline digital maps support for years.