Offline search and navigation was one of the biggest announcements at I/O this May — and now, nearly six months later, that feature is finally reaching users. Today, Google Maps will roll out a new offline mode allowing for driving directions and search. It's designed to fit seamlessly alongside the online version of Maps, allowing data connection to drop in and out without interrupting the app itself. The new features will begin rolling out to Android users later today, and Google says the iOS rollout will follow "soon."
The option to save certain areas has existed in Google Maps since 2012, but this is the first time they've been indexed for search and navigation. That means that if you save the city you live in, you'll be able to search for a place to have dinner and get a response without a cellular connection. Because of space constraints, the businesses stored will have names, star ratings, and phone numbers, but no photos or user reviews.
Similarly, directions will work from average traffic time rather than loading in real-time traffic data, although the route will update as soon as the connection is restored. The initial rollout doesn't include transit or walking directions, largely due to space considerations, but Google says it will be adding more capabilities in future versions of the app.
The feature will be most useful for anyone navigating without a cellular connection, either in a dead zone or a foreign country that requires a second SIM. But project manager Amanda Bishop says even standard users will notice maps loading faster, because of the erratic nature of even the best data connections. According to Google's research, the average phone is offline for 10 percent of the day, much of which results from simple network congestion. "The app just feels really fast," Bishop says. "It's about never ever having to wait."