By Nina Mulamba
Google has upgraded its Android Maps app that will mostly benefit tourists visiting places outside their mobile subscription plans and people living in emerging markets, where data can be expensive.
The app will provide directions when not connected to the internet and also allow users to find business locations, opening hours and telephone numbers while offline.
To make use of the new feature, users will have to download information of the area of interest to the app. Once the information has been installed, the app is designed to switch “seamlessly” between offline and online modes unless forced to stay off the net.
That means, for example, that if a driver starts their journey in an underground garage without a data connection, the app will suggest a route and drive-time estimate based on typical conditions, but will then amend the information once it gains access to live traffic and accident information.
The offline map will automatically update once every 15 days to acquire current data as long as the handset is plugged into a charger and connected to Wi-Fi (unless the user overrides these restrictions).
“We’ve been working on all of this stuff for two to three years. Google Maps happened to be really slow or completely unusable in many scenarios due to limited mobile internet. Users now don’t have to do all that screenshot jujitsu before they leave, and there’s much faster load times for search and driving directions,” said Product Manager Amanda Bishop.
The application however has some various absent functions such as:
• Reviews people have posted about restaurants and other businesses are not shown, nor are user-generated photos.
• Owners cannot switch to a satellite view, and while the app provides driving directions, it will not offer walking or public transport-based routes.
Even so, it is an improvement on the app’s previous offline mode, which let users save maps of an area but not search or get directions within them.
However, one expert said budget-phone owners would now have to juggle data.
“Entry-level Android smartphones sometimes only have four gigabytes of onboard storage, making it a precious resource. Once you’ve downloaded a few applications, some music and perhaps a video, that memory quickly disappears,” notes Ben Wood from CCS Insight.
Google said downloading most of Greater London would take up 380 MB on a device, while storing the San Francisco Bay area would require about 200MB.
It added that it intended to release a similar update for iOS devices “very soon”, but could not confirm if that would be before the year’s end.