Promised in May at Google I/O, Google is bringing offline features to Android beginning today, iOS users will have to wait a bit longer.
Google explained its thinking in a blog post today where the company acknowledges that in the more developed world online use will still be the go to. However, elsewhere the company sees the improvements as an excellent opportunity to guide people to their destinations. This is not to say that it won’t help U.S users in areas of little data coverage.
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Roughly 60 percent of the world is without Internet today, and even where online access is available, it can still be spotty. That means that quick and easy access to information is still not possible for a majority of the population. This is a huge problem, especially as people attempt to navigate and explore the world around them, so Google Maps is taking steps to help people across the globe find directions and get where they’re going, even when they don’t have an Internet connection.
Now you can download an area of the world to your phone, and the next time you find there’s no connectivity—whether it’s a country road or an underground parking garage—Google Maps will continue to work seamlessly. Whereas before you could simply view an area of the map offline, now you can get turn-by-turn driving directions, search for specific destinations, and find useful information about places, like hours of operation, contact information or ratings. the post read.
A problem for lesser phones?
There is an obvious caveat to this, entry level Android smartphones often have as little as four gigabytes of storage and downloading a map of Greater London will take up 380 megabytes according to Google. The San Francisco bay area where Google is based will take up roughly 200MB.
“Entry-level Android smartphones sometimes only have four gigabytes of onboard storage, making it a precious resource,” Ben Wood from CCS Insight recently told the BBC.
“Once you’ve downloaded a few applications, some music and perhaps a video, that memory quickly disappears.
“So some users may find using map downloads limits what else they can do with their device – but to be honest that’s one small negative in a sea of positives about this update.”
While that will present a problem for a number of users, the advantages for owners of larger storage device are pretty impressive.
Google helps many with offline features
Last week, Drew Olanoff of TechCrunch talked with Amanda Bishop, Product Manager for Google Maps, about the new offline features. They spoke of dead spots in carrier coverage among other reasons for Google’s upgrade.
“10% of the time our users are getting slow or no results.” Bishop told me. That’s not really conducive to being confident about where you’re headed next. I mean, in some spots in Los Angeles you might as well print out directions and drop them on the floor of your car like everyone used to before GPS,” said Bishop.
“We’re really proud of it because it was really hard,” Bishop said to Olanoff. “You keep getting turn-by-turn directions, you can search for destinations if you need to go somewhere else and get details about places along the way.”
Google’s future features
Maps that have been downloaded will be automatically updated when you’re charging your phone if it has access to Wi-Fi. Google also hopes to give users suggestions of maps to download or even do it automatically based on appointments you may have scheduled in Google Calendar among other future improvements.
Google also made the upgrade seamlessly work between online and offline mode. If you find yourself in a data dead spot online, mode will kick in until you once again have coverage in which case your phone will switch back to working in a real-time online mode.