Google Maps For Android Update Includes Limited Map Downloading

During my recent trip around Lake Michigan I used Google Maps and Navigation to provide directions during my travels. Unfortunately, I encountered situations where Google Maps did not work because I did not have an Internet connection. Today Google released an update to Maps that shows progress towards providing offline maps, but unfortunately the feature has a limited amount of functionality.

One of the disadvantages of using a smartphone as a GPS is that most rely on an Internet connection to download map information as you are traveling. Most dedicated GPS devices have built-in maps or the ability to download entire states and freeway systems, and they don’t have a wireless connection to the Internet. The advantage of a dedicated GPS is that you don’t need to pay for a wireless Internet access and it works where wireless Internet is not available, but the disadvantage is that you have to download the maps to the device before you leave for your trip.

Some GPS devices are supported by online web sites that allow you to plan a trip, with stops along the way, and then download the map data to the device. Such devices usually can support trips across multiple states and do so by only downloading a fixed amount of distance, such as 20 miles in either direction, along the route. Ideally, Google Maps would provide this functionality both on the web site and on Android phones, but instead, the feature provided today only downloads a 10 mile square around a point that you pick on the map.

If you are traveling to a location that you know does not have Internet coverage, you can pick that location on that map and have Google Maps download the 10 mile map area to the phone. It is not clear to me whether there can only be one map area selection available on a phone at a time, or if you can select multiple map areas along a route to download to the phone. Obviously, manually downloading 10 mile blocks along a route can be pretty cumbersome.

The download map area feature is part of the Labs section of Google Maps, which means that it in testing and could change or be removed. I hope that Google improves this feature so that it can be useful for trips greater than ten miles.