The next generation of Google Maps for Android-based mobile devices is now available to download for free from the Android Market, bringing significant new features according to the company announcement on Thursday.
Google Maps for Mobile launched more than five years ago but this is the first release to break away from the flat, north-up map layout and introduce 3D imagery as well as better offline navigation.
Instead of the previous approach that relied on small individual small square images, it now uses vector graphics to draw the map, introducing the option of 3D mapping.
The 3D mode adds new depth, such as the ability to tilt or rotate the map and 3D buildings to give new perspective and improves pinch-to-zoom scaling. There's also a new compass mode, which when activated, switches to 3D and rotates to match the user perspective but keeps all labels and information upright.
In the Google Mobile blog post, the company says that the switch to dynamically drawn maps requires 100 times less data than previously, allowing much larger maps areas to be cached for offline usage.
"Rather than having a static set of maps when installed, Maps will automatically start caching the areas you visit the most when your device is plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi," product manager Michael Siliski wrote. "We're already hard at work improving the algorithms and technology behind these features, so over time you can expect to see maps work better in more offline situations."
Google also says that it will begin gradually rolling out offline rerouting of maps for people that use the Navigation feature "over the next few weeks". A connection will be required to begin a journey but once underway, last minute diversions are quickly recalculated without the need for a connection.
Google Maps 5.0 for Android will run on Android 1.6 devices or newer, though the new 3D and offline features will require Android 2.0+ and even then, some features may still not work.