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Google Maps 5.0 for Android Smartphones and Tablets

Updated on January 27, 2011

Google Maps 5.0 For Android Smartphones and Tablets

Last week Google released an update for the Google Maps application for Android powered devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs. The update, Google Maps 5.0, introduces two significant new features as well as some additional upgrades. Let’s take a look…

Feature One: 3D Interaction

The Google Maps 5.0 application allows the user to browse over 100 major cities around the world in 3D.

Browse These US Cities in 3D

Click to enlarge cities
Click to enlarge cities | Source

In order to utilize this new 3D browsing capability, which allows the user to explore 3D representations of buildings in the cities shown above, Google had to change the way maps data is downloaded by the application. Prior to this new version, Google Maps downloaded a map as a set of 256 x 256 individual square pixel “tiles” that were then stitched together to generate the map. As the user scrolled around the map, each pre-rendered tile had to be downloaded individually, then merged with its neighbors, which quickly became a large amount of tiles and data, and hence often a slow response time. However, Google has changed the fundamental mechanism by which the application downloads data. The Maps 5.0 app implements this change by utilizing vector graphics that are downloaded as “vector tiles”, which describe the underlying geometry of the map, rather than a composite image. Google states the vector is like a “blueprint”, rather than the complete picture, therefore the amount of data needed to create the map is much less than when using pre-rendered image tiles. For the user, this means an increase in speed and a smoother browsing experience. The 3D view provides a virtual cityscape complete with skyscrapers, buildings, and of course parks, restaurants, businesses, bus stops, hospital, and major shopping centers. However, unless you live in a major metropolitan area such as New York City or London, your city probably won’t be available for 3D browsing but I would be willing to bet that Google is working on it.


Because the vector tiles are lightweight compared to image tiles they are more flexible and allow the app to re-daw the same map from different viewpoints or perspectives. This allows some new browsing features for the app:

  • Tilting - Tiliting allows the user to change the view from overhead or 'Birds Eye view' to a tilted view of the cityline. The view can be tilted by simply sliding two fingers up and down the screen, as one does this the view tilts seamlessly.
  • Rotating - The user can rotate the image by twisting two fingers around the screen, this rotates the view and allows the user to examine the city from multiple angles and perspectives.

These two images are screenshots from my Samsung Epic 4G, of an area of New York, and illustrate the Birds Eye view vs. a tiltled view. You can easily notice the 3D structure in the tilted view, a new feature in Maps 5.0.

For a video demonstration check of the video posted below.

Bird's Eye View vs. Tilted View
Bird's Eye View vs. Tilted View

Google Maps 5.0 Video Tour

  • Compass Mode - Tapping the top right icon on the maps screen will turn on compass mode which will flip the map into 3D mode and rotate it to match your current location's perspective.

NOTE- For compass mode you need to have your phone enabled to use your current location the system settings under Location and Security.

Here is an example of compass mode from my phone. The red arrow points north while the blue shows my current location and direction. 

Feature Two: Offline Capability

Since rendering maps with vector graphics requires dramatically less data to download, Maps 5.0 is able to incorporate another astounding feature. It can proactively store large areas of map data on your Android device, which translates into the ability to view maps in areas of poor or absent network signal. In fact, Maps 5.0 stores map data for the areas you use the most frequently. When network or WiFi signal is present, the app stores data automatically. So if your in an area without cell signal, say inside a large building or in the subway, you can still get maps of your city and get directions to local coffee shops, restaurants, and businesses.

Of course Maps still retains all the previous features that make it so useful, such as searching for driving directions, and local places of interest. For example, lets say I wanted to get a cup of coffee but I'm not familiar with the area. I simply load up the maps application and tap the "Search Maps" icon on the top left. I enter Caribou Coffee and tap the magnifying glass. Maps pulls up a list of the Caribou Coffee shops near my current location. In this case there are four, listed at A through D. If I want more information for each location I can click on the letter (I'll use C at the local mall) and tap the list button on the bottom left of the screen. Maps pulls up relevant information for this location such as the address, telephone number, and review info submitted by users.

Search for Destinations

I decide this is the location I like and want directions. I just click the little right turn icon and maps pulls up the directions for me. It even lets me know how bad the traffic is, which in the case, isn't congested. If I wanted, Maps would also give me local transit, bicycle, and walking directions as well. Now that I have all the relevant information and the directions, I'm off to get myself a mocha!

In conclusion, the new Android Maps application for smartphones and tablets has introduced some new features and made the browsing maps experience significantly faster and more detailed. The app is especially useful for traveling to unfamiliar destinations. So go ahead, use your barcode scanner below and download Google Maps 5.0, it's FREE. Let me know how you like it in the comments below!

You can also read more about upcoming Google products at this hub.

For a list of all my hubs check out my profile page.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @Enni82!


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