Thursday, January 13, 2011

Google maps 5 offers 3D vector maps, offline caching

Google's Andy Rubin gave attendees of the D: Dive Into Mobile event, as well as the entire internet, a look at the new Google Maps software while demonstrating a Motorola prototype tablet running a development version of Android Honeycomb. (Check out the video at the bottom of this story for a demonstration of both.)

The fifth iteration of Google Maps for Mobile will feature an overhauled visual style that is based on vector graphics rather than the flat, bitmap images of the current version. The upshot of this change in graphic architecture is that maps now require much less storage space and less bandwidth to download.

Overall performance of the Google Maps software should be improved, but more importantly, lighter map data requirements makes possible the offline caching of routes. This means that once a route is locked in, users will not need to maintain an internet connection for the duration of the trip, which will make Google Maps navigation much more useful for those of us who stray off of the cellular grid occasionally. Of course, altering the route or choosing a new destination will still require a connection, but small re-routes for a missed turn or two may not.

The other advantage of the vector map data is that Google Maps will now offer 3D building data for over 100 cities. These 3D landmarks can be tilted, rotated, panned and zoomed with multi-touch controls. It's a neat feature that may be useful for users who prefer to navigate visually, but we've always felt that 3D landmarks on maps are more eye candy than a useful navigation tool.

Google Maps for Mobile 5 will be available for download in the coming days. However, while compatible phones will benefit from the improved performance and possibly map data caching, features such as advanced multi-touch controls and 3D rendering may be restricted to handsets with the hardware to support them.