Wifi-only mode introduced to Google Maps to boost offline navigation

Google has moved to improve its popular Maps app by allowing people to use it even when they have no mobile data connection.

Back in the old days of dedicated satnav devices all the map information was already stored on the device, meaning no data connection was needed, with the GPS signal providing all the additional information needed to allow navigation. Google Maps, however, doesn’t store map data locally, opting to transiently download only local map data as and when it’s needed.

One of the reasons for this is that Google Maps files are pretty large, so to locally store entire countries, let alone the whole world, would leave a massive memory footprint on the device. So Google has coupled the introduction of wifi-only mode with the ability to download and store map data straight to SD cards (in Android devices), so if you do want to store the whole world you just need to by a capacious card.

“Now, when you know you’ll have spotty service or just want to save on data, you can toggle to ‘wifi-only’ to use Google Maps entirely offline on Android,” blogged Google Maps Product Manager Amanda Bishop. “And the best part is that you can still use other apps and the rest of your phone as you normally would. You might even save on battery life too.

“To ensure that Google Maps users with any storage capacity can download and use offline areas when they need them most, we’ve added the ability to download your offline areas to an external SD card (if your device supports them) on Google Maps for Android. Now you’ll never have to choose between snapping more food photos or the ability to navigate offline.”

One more Google Maps tweak concerns ride-hailing services such as Uber. Through Google Maps you can now compare ride services to, in theory, be able to instantly choose the cheapest or most convenient one. This was first introduced in March but is adding locations and services all the time.

As well as helping keep down mobile data consumption the offline navigation feature is especially useful for tourists, the only catch being the need to remember to download the areas you need when you have access to wifi. Also Google Maps currently only allows you to store a rectangular chunk of geography rather than, say, an entire country, which is not totally user-friendly.

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