Google Maps for Android Gets Transit Navigation, Offline Maps

Google Maps for Android 5.7 features turn-by-turn GPS Transit Directions for those traveling by bus or train in unfamiliar places. Also, users may download Maps to use sans data connections.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) July 6 rolled out Google Maps 5.7 for Android with Transit Navigation and other features geared to help searchers on the go in an unfamiliar setting get their bearings from their Android smartphones.

Google, which has racked up 12 billion miles of turn-by-turn driving and walking directions per year since it began been offering Maps Navigation beta application on Android smartphones November 2009, said navigation is available for public transit directions in 400+ cities worldwide.

Transit Navigation uses GPS to determine an Android phone user's current location along their route and alerts them when it's time to get off or make a transfer from their train or bus.

However, because the service relies on GPS signals instead of WiFi networks, Google said the tool works best for above-ground transit. So, use this app on subways at your own risk.

Google noted Transit Navigation is especially useful for folks visiting foreign cities, where they might not speak the same language and can't read the local route maps or grok destination announcements. The app is also inconspicuous, running in the background while users access other apps.

The search engine made others Navigation improvements. Currently, when users seek walking or driving directions they must go to Google Maps, select Directions and activate Navigation.

Now users who select the driving or walking icon for routes, will see the Navigation icon automatically appear so users can get access to directions in one click.

Google Maps for Android also has new search suggestions capabilities, including category icons with pins for a Google Places listing, a star for a starred Place or location, a clock for previously searched terms, a person for contacts and a magnifying glass for other results.

Finally, any place a user got directions to or called directly from its Places page will be included as a suggestion for a relevant search.

Google July 7 also added a new experimental Labs feature to Google Maps for Android 5.7 that lets users access Google Maps without a data signal or data plan for those traveling abroad without the benefit of global roaming.

Note: this is strictly for users who are planning trips and/or who have the foresight to know where they might be in a spot where Maps are required. In other words, it won't work for impromptu, unplanned direction needs.

In Google's example, a user planning a trip to Bordeaux, France, can access any Google Places page, click "more" to access the Places page menu and then download Google Maps for Bordeaux with a 10-mile radius.

The download stores the base map tiles and the landmarks on the map, which means it won't show things that require data connections, such as satellite view and 3D buildings, Places search or directions.

After 30 days, all downloaded map areas will be removed from the phone's cache. This summer vacation feature is exclusive to Google Maps for Android 5.7 users with phones running Android 2.1 and later, one of the many features iPhone users who use Google Maps won't be able to enjoy.

Users who want to access Labs on their phone can press their phone's menu button once in Google Maps, choose "More" and select Labs. On an Android tablet, users must click the menu button in the upper-right corner of Maps.