Google Takes Maps Offline
With all the talk of cloud services and streaming media, it's easy to forget that for many people around the world, a mobile data connection is a scarce, expensive resource. To make such existing products as Maps better suited to these customers, Google is adding both search and turn-by-turn directions to the much-used app's offline mode.
Google dedicated a central segment of today's I/O conference keynote to what it calls "the next billion users," those customers in developing markets who are just now coming online in the mobile ecosystem. This is where Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president for engineering, showed off the new offline map features.
With the demo phone on airplane mode, Fitzpatrick navigated to a museum in Mexico City, pulled up reviews and opening hours, and even launched turn-by-turn voice directions (in Spanish, naturally). These new offline features will actually land in your pocket later this year, though details are still extremely scarce. It's unclear how much of this data must be preloaded manually, how far from your last location Maps will be able to take you, and how flexible the overall experience will be.
The real potential for offline Maps, though, comes in concert with Google's biggest announcement of the day, Now on Tap. The context-aware service could pluck relevant data for your day's appointments, where you need to travel, and what errands you need to run, send it to Maps, and essentially build a temporary offline library of all the info you might need. It does this while data is abundant and cheap, reducing the need for tons of mobile updates.
These offline Maps developments come on the back of other modified and pared-down services. Most notably, there is YouTube Offline, a service available in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, that lets users download videos to mobile devices via Wi-Fi that can be watched without a connection over the next 48 hours. There will also be optimized Web pages and search results that load up to four times as fast on 2G connections as typical pages created for 4G networks.