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Offline search and navigation arrives on Google Maps for mobile

Android users of Google Maps now have the same search and navigation functionality offline as they do online. Adding Google Now smarts to the map download function would be even more useful.

Need directions on the go but don't have a solid mobile broadband connection? Google Maps can help you with that once you update to the latest version on your smartphone or tablet.

Google introduced offline navigation and search features on Tuesday for the Android version of Google Maps with the iOS client "coming soon." The company first announced the new features earlier this year at its Google I/O developer event.

So why even bother indexing points of interest and saving map areas on a mobile device when connectivity is near-ubiquitous for so many people?

Because 60 percent of the world isn't yet blanketed with fast LTE networks, or networks of any kind for that matter, Google says. And even where there is coverage, congestion or signal issues can still rear their ugly head at a time where you need map information quickly.

With the updated Google Maps software, users can choose to download specific map areas to their mobile device. Those maps are then indexed locally so that searches and turn-by-turn directions still work, even when offline. You can also see more information and hours of operation for businesses and other locations while offline too.

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Sure, you need to generally know where you'll be in advance and download the map information in advance but that's a small price to pay for having access to the map data even while offline.

If Google were smart, it would use its Google Now contextual service to assist with this. Among other things, Google Now knows in advance when you're traveling or driving to events listed on your calendar; automatically downloading map data for the ride -- and then deleting it for you afterwards -- would be helpful.