Google has added 3D and offline capabilities to its new Maps 5.0 for Android application, making the app more interactive and reliable for people trying to get a handle on navigation.
Google Maps has rendered streets and buildings using a flat tile graphics for the last five years. The company decided it was time to make the app more interactive for users.
To freshen the app, Google is now using 3D vector graphics to fill in streets, buildings and other content on the map once users begin navigating around the app.
Users can tilt the map by dragging down with two fingers on their Android handset or tablet's touch-screen. When users zoom to street level, they may tilt around to see 3D buildings in more than 100 cities worldwide.
Users may also rotate the map to get a different view by twisting with two fingers on the touch-screen. By sliding two fingers together or apart, users will see the map terrain and associated labels change on the fly to any place to which they are navigating.
When users center the map on their location, they can tap the compass button in the top right corner to throw the map into 3D mode. See these features in screenshots and in action in this video from Google.
Google followers have been licking their chops for these dynamic 3D capabilities in Google Maps 5.0 for Android since Dec. 6, when Android creator Andy Rubin showed off the technology on an early Android 3.0 tablet from Motorola at the D: Dive into Mobile event. See his demo here.
Google also moved to add more offline capabilities to Google Maps for Android for those times when users' Internet connections are less than stellar. Until now, Google Maps without an Internet connection has left users rudderless.
Google is now caching large areas on Android devices based on what areas they frequently search in Google Maps from their Android phone or tablet. This means people living in New York City, for example, will always have local street and area Maps content.
The company is also bringing its offline perks to its Google Maps Navigation turn-by-turn GPS navigation feature, which is used by more than 10 million people to get directions while driving.
Navigation users will need a connection to begin their route, but if the GPS falters along the way, the offline routing will keep them on track. This feature will be rolling out early next year.
Google Maps 5.0 for Android is available in the Android Market now for Android 1.6 and later devices. However, Android phone and tablet owners must have a device with Android 2.0 and up to leverage the 3D and offline features.
Google Maps 5.0 for Android provides quite a boost over the last Google Maps 4.7 for Android upgrades, which launched just one month ago.
That version included local recommendations about locations from friends via Google's Hotpot engine. Hotpot had taken on greater importance with the arrival of near field communications capabilities on Android phones.