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You’ll soon be able to search Google maps even when you’re offline

YouTube/Google Developers
Coming later this year.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s soon going to become a lot harder to get lost, even when you’re in an unfamiliar city without cellular service.

Google announced at its I/O developers conference today that it’s extending the functionality of Google Maps when there’s no internet connection available. Later this year, turn-by-turn directions and business information will be added to Google’s already very useful offline maps service.

Users can now save a map of an area to their phone and search for places on the map, even without an internet connection. The planned expansion will allow for a richer and more granular version of that search.

On stage at I/O, Jen Fitzpatrick, a vice president of engineering at Google, searched for the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City on a phone, pulled up the museum’s hours and reviews, and got turn-by-turn directions, all while in airplane mode. (A smartphone will still need to have GPS turned on for this to work, although that doesn’t require any data.)

“With offline maps, you won’t need to suck down expensive data… every time you want to navigate somewhere,” Fitzpatrick said.

Explaining the impetus for the expansion to the crowd at I/O, Fitzpatrick framed it as part of the effort to get the next billion users online. ”More and more people are getting their first smartphones, and for many of them, that mobile phone will be their very first computer,” she said.

But data service can be expensive and spotty around the world, Fitzpatrick said. For new users, that’s a barrier to entry for its services that Google is trying to lower, and building more powerful offline maps is a part of that.

Pair this with Google Now’s new feature to find your car wherever you parked it, and it should be a lot harder to get stranded in an unfamiliar place.

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