Google Brings Back Offline Maps in Face of User Criticism

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-07-11
New direction

Google Brings Back Offline Maps in Face of User Criticism

Google just did a complete about-face with its new Android Google Maps app after announcing July 10 that the latest version no longer includes capabilities to use the maps offline when users don't have Internet access.

Early on July 11, Google responded to user complaints about the offline maps omission and announced that it would again add the feature to the latest Maps app, beginning immediately.

"Based on user feedback on offline maps, we pushed an update late last night to the new Google Maps app for Android," a Google spokesman told eWEEK in an email.

Google also posted a Google+ announcement about its response.

"We've been happy to hear so many of you enjoying the interface and features of the new Google Maps app for Android, but we know some of you are missing an easy way to access maps offline," the post states. "That's why our engineering team has been working around the clock to add a 'Make this map area available offline' card below the search box for easier access. And, if you still want some #thumbercise, typing 'ok maps' will work too!"

The new version, featuring the reintroduced offline maps capabilities, will begin rolling out globally today, the company said.

Google had announced July 10 that the new Maps app for Android is getting a new "explore" option that allows users to visually browse and discover new places without typing. Instead, users can tap the search box, and they'll see pop-up "cards" that display nearby places to eat, drink, sleep and shop. In addition, users will get enhanced capabilities that can help them navigate around traffic, with traffic details that can describe what is happening on nearby roads.

At the same time, though, the July 10 announcement also slated several Maps features for a demise, including the offline maps and the Latitude and check-ins features.

They were to be being replaced with location sharing and check-ins to Google+ for Android (coming soon to iOS) to provide similar services, the post stated. Google had told users in the July 10 post that they could still access offline maps by entering "OK Maps" into the search box when viewing the area where they were traveling. In addition, that post stated, "My Maps" functionality was also removed in the new app but it is slated for return to future versions of the app.

Users were critical of the moves on the Google+ page and Google apparently listened to the feedback. Users were just as happy about the company's change of heart and thanked Google after it announced the turnaround.

That initial feedback caused Google to change its course, the company spokesman told eWEEK in a follow-up conversation. "After seeing some of the comments and reactions of users around the world who were missing the offline functionality, our engineering team worked around the clock to develop an easier way to cache a map for offline use," the spokesman stated. 

The new Google Maps for Android builds on the design the company introduced for the iPhone last December and improves on it with a few useful search and navigation features, according to the company. The new version is the first dedicated app for Android tablets and iPads. The new app will run on Android devices with Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean versions of the operating system. The Apple version will support iOS 6+ when it is available in the future.

Google Brings Back Offline Maps in Face of User Criticism

Android tablet users will find that the newly redesigned Maps app works better on their devices because it is now designed to render images and information in a tablet format, according to Google. Also unveiled in the refreshed Maps app is a new 5.0 star rating system that gives users Zagat's ratings on restaurants, bars, cafes and other destinations. Reviews from friends and acquaintances are also available through the app. Another new feature is the availability of mobile offers and discounts from national brands like Macy's, Michael's and Toys "R" Us that are presented and labeled on the user's map screen.

In May, Google unveiled innovative updates for Google Maps at its annual Google I/O Developers Conference, including a more interactive look and feel. The new Google Maps takes a novel approach to how people use online and mobile maps, gaining the ability to instantly respond to user inputs, making recommendations on places to visit and highlighting information that matters most during a map inquiry. The next generation of the Maps service essentially will create a map that is unique to each user and his or her needs, based on the input from the user.

In March, Google unveiled its first big update of its young Google Maps for iPhone app, adding several new features to the stand-alone mapping app that Google introduced in December 2012 to work with Apple's latest iOS 6 mobile operating system. The December 2012 app debut followed Apple's announcement in May 2012 that it would drop the native Google Maps app that had been part of iOS since the arrival of the first iPhones so that the company could introduce its own maps app.

The arrival of the Apple Maps app in iOS 6, however, was met with many complaints and criticisms from users who bashed its lack of accuracy and geographic details. The public relations problem was so bad at the time that Apple CEO Tim Cook even offered a public apology for the problems and vowed that they would eventually be resolved.

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