Remember that awesome new build of Google Maps for Android that Google started teasing us with last week? It’s now available, and it’s fantastic.
The new build, creatively dubbed “Google Maps 5”, packs at least three big features: 3D building rendering (allowing you to tilt and rotate around a map to get a considerably more accurate idea of what things look like), Dynamic, Vector-based map drawing, and Offline reliability. While that first feature is perhaps the most flashy, the last two are what really seal the deal. If it weren’t already, Maps for Android is now quite certainly the best mapping experience in mobile.
You see, up until this point, Google Maps used image tiles for all of their street maps on Android. Images are big, and take a ton of memory; now, Google is instead using vectors (a fancy way of saying lines drawn on-the-fly based on coordinates). You can pass many thousands of vector coordinates in the same bit of bandwidth that would be required for a single image tile; by Google’s estimate, these new vector-based maps required 70% less data overall as opposed to their old image-based counterparts. As a result, maps will load much faster, you’ll be able to zoom in and out without that nasty blurry lag (vectors scale beautifully, images don’t), and the app can store much, much bigger chunks of the map in memory.
That leads to the other killer feature: Offline reliability. With the vector maps being so much smaller, Android can cache the maps you use most often. Lose your network connection? No sweat — as long as you dont suddenly jump forward a few hundred miles, you should be fine. It’ll even reroute you if you make the wrong turn, no network required.
Now, for the catches: though you can install it on Android 1.6 or higher, you’ll need Android 2.0 or newer to use any of these three features. Oh, and if your handset doesn’t support multitouch, don’t expect to be able to tilt/pan around the 3D buildings — that’s a two finger gesture.