Google Maps 5.0, the latest and greatest version of Maps for mobile, is coming to Android with two significant new features: 3D interaction and offline reliability.
Google’s maps for mobile was introduced about 5 years ago, and has received countless numbers of updates since its launch. Still, a couple of things have remained the same- a flat, north-up map and the need for a strong Internet connection.
Until now, Google Maps has always downloaded the map as a set of small, square images that are stitched together to form the map on the screen. (You’ve probably seen those gray squares getting filled in, block-by-block, as the images load over the network.) Starting today, Maps will use vector graphics to dynamically draw the map on your device as you use it, allowing you to interact with it in new ways. These include tilting the maps (which makes seeing a skyline easy), easy finger rotation and smooth zooming.
Also included in the update is an all-new compass mode. Center the map on your location, and then tap the compass button in the top right corner. The map will flip into 3D mode and start rotating to match your perspective, while still keeping all the labels upright and readable.
Google is working hard to improve the offline capabilities and reliability of Maps. Rather than having a static set of maps when installed, Maps will automatically start caching the areas you visit the most when your device is plugged in and connected to WiFi (e.g., the nightly charge).
The Maps team is also introducing offline rerouting. You’ll still need a connection to start a route, but if you miss a turn along the way, they’ll quickly get you back on track, even if you don’t have an Internet connection. Google is expecting roll this feature out gradually over the next few weeks.
Get Google Maps for mobile 5.0 by searching for Google Maps in the Android Market (or tap on this link if you’re on your phone). Android 1.6+ devices can get Maps 5.0, but 3D and offline features require Android 2.0+, and some features may not be supported for all devices or countries.