Google Maps: Now in 3D and Available Offline

Maps. We all use them at some point, and a lot of us do so on a device connected to Google’s own mapping service. Just a week before Apple is widely expected to unveil their own mapping service for iOS, Google held a small event to show off developments in Google Maps including some exciting news for those that like to view the world in 3D.

In addition to 3D, Google Maps is getting a bit of a UI update, as well as the ability to access maps while offline! Let’s take a look at what Google had to show off.

Maps in Three Dimensions

Google announced plans to enhance its offering of 3D maps using what has been described as an “automated technology to extract 3D from aerial images”.

This is conveniently (though I suspect not coincidentally) timed, given the rumours that Apple will soon be announcing their own mapping service that focuses heavily on 3D imagery, rather than the conventional flat maps.

The Verge described the new 3D maps as being “stunning” and, when compared to the prior looks of Google Earth, “night and day”. While Google hasn’t specified a particular rollout timeframe, we should see both Android and iOS getting these enhanced images for “several cities”, with the goal being to have a “very large number” by the year’s end.

Offline Maps

3D maps are cool, but this next announcement was probably more exciting for me: Google announced it will be bringing Maps for Android that work offline.

Maps will now be able to save specific places (a specific “square” of the map that you define) to your local device storage, so you can access it anywhere, without needing to be constantly connected to the internet. This is obviously very useful, and could potentially remove the need for that backup paper map for the unfortunate time when your 3G goes AWOL or when travelling abroad.

Again, unfortunately, Google did not specify a release timeframe for this feature.

Google Maps - soon available offline. (Photo credit: The Verge)

(Editor’s note: A slightly limited form of this is already available in Google Maps for Android: tap Menu > Settings, select Labs, and you can choose to “Precache map area”. The Labs release does not allow you to choose the size of the area to be stored offline, however.)

Report a Problem, Get it Fixed

Google’s also now allowing users to troubleshoot issues with directions on their map by reporting a problem with it through the web interface. As shown in the video below, this will ping an engineer who will manually find an alternative route and update the instructions for future directions.

Backpack Cam

At their June 6th event, Google also showed off the Street View cameras which they’re using to expand beyond the traditional car that goes driving around our countries taking pictures along the way.

The new 360-degree camera-in-a-backpack allows Street View operators to capture images while walking, extending the service’s reach far beyond just roads.

Directions to Cupertino

Rumours have been flying lately about Apple’s apparent upcoming entry into the maps market, with some suggesting, what with the ambiguous release specifications, that this event is Google’s hastily attempt to bring 3D maps to the public before Apple does.

Google has powered the maps on iOS since the device’s launch, yet apparently Apple’s been wanting to ditch the service for “years”. The Wall Street Journal feels pretty confident that Apple will show off a new mapping service as part of iOS 6 at Monday’s WWDC keynote, evicting a Google dependency from Apple’s product. The March release of iPhoto for iOS already signalled Apple’s move away from Google Maps, as the branded service was not seen as part of Apple’s photography app.

Apple’s contract with Google for maps apparently completes at the end of this year, making a fall iOS 6 release the perfect time to unleash a new service upon the public. But iOS user shouldn’t worry, as it’s likely Google will release a standalone, downloadable iOS app for Google Maps (and, from the screenshots of 3D maps, it’s already in development).

What do you think of the new Google Maps? If you’re an iOS user, do you think Apple’s hypothetical offering would offer substantial competition to Google’s? Sound off in the comments!