In a move that will likely change the world of mobile services, Google Maps will begin rolling out a feature Tuesday that allows users to access driving directions and search offline.
Since dead zones on cellular service are a reality and WiFi connections are not always available, the feature will run alongside the online version of Maps, allowing the data connection to drop and reconnect without interruption of service. It initially becomes available today to Android users, with the iOS version following soon.
The feature makes it easier for people to find businesses through online services whether or not connected to the Internet. Users can search for a city, county or country and tap the "Download" button to download an area, or by going to "Offline Areas" in the Google Maps menu and tapping on the "+" button, explains Amanda Bishop, Google product manager.
Once downloaded, Google Maps moves into offline mode automatically when it recognizes the user is in a location with spotty service or no connectivity at all. When a connection is found, it will switch back online so you can easily access the full version of Maps, including live traffic conditions for your current route.
Google has offered the option to save areas for nearly three years, but this is the first time the app will index them for search and navigation. The businesses stored will have names, star ratings, and phone numbers, but no photos or user reviews.
The latest move to allow users to access Google Maps offline is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Working offline in online docs isn't new. Google enables offline access to Google Docs editors and Drive files. The biggest challenge becomes remembering to sign into Google before leaving Internet or WiFi access, because it won't let users do so without being connected.