Using a mobile application in an area where Internet connectivity is spotty or doesn’t exist at all can be a frustrating experience, especially if you are using the app to explore a new place or get directions to a specific location.
Google today announced a new offline capability for Google Maps that it says helps address that problem. Starting today, Maps users will be able to download any area of the world to their mobile phone and get turn-by-turn directions to wherever they want to go, even if there’s no Internet connection.
Until now, Google Maps only gave users the ability to merely view an area of a map in offline mode. With today’s announcement, they now have the ability to conduct searches for specific locations and get information such as business hours and customer ratings even when they are completely offline, Google Product Manager Amanda Bishop wrote in Google’s official blog.
Users can search for and download beforehand a map for any area they want by searching for the place by country, county or city. The downloaded map is designed to automatically go into offline mode when Google Maps detects that the user is in an area with little or no Internet connectivity, Bishop said.
“When a connection is found, it will switch back online so you can easily access the full version of Maps, including live traffic conditions for your current route,” she said. To help users avoid large data fees, maps for local areas are designed by default to download onto a user’s device only when a WiFi network is available, Bishop added.
According to her, the new capability is especially useful in the 60 percent of the world that still does not have Internet connectivity or has to manage with spotty service at best.
Google’s move to update Google Maps is part of a broader effort by the company to give users access to many more applications with a similar offline capability.
In January, the company released a Mobile Offline software development kit (SDK) for the iOS and Android ecosystems. Google has described the kit as something that developers can use to quickly build applications that can work without interruption whether online or disconnected from the network. Mobile Offline is based on technology that Google acquired from its purchase of software vendor Firebase in October 2014. It gives developers a way around some of the challenges involved in enabling an offline capability using a traditional approach to programming, Google has previously noted.
Building offline support for a mobile application can significantly improve the user experience. However, integrating such support into applications is not particularly easy. As InfoQ, a Website that publishes content contributed by technology practitioners, noted in a report earlier this year, offline support requires developers to think about concepts like local caching of data and local queuing of requests to the server when connections are not available.
Applications use data in the local cache when offline and then query the server for the latest changes to the app when online so as to ensure that the locally stored data is synced up and kept up-to-date with data in the server.