Google, Apple and Nokia plan revamp of map experience

Maps on mobile devices are set to go to the next level.

Last week, Google made several announcements on its Maps application, the most prominent being the launch of offline Google Maps for Android devices. The application is expected to roll out on the Google Play Apps market in the coming weeks for devices running Android OS 2.2 (Froyo) upwards.

Explaining the significance in a blog post on the official Google Blog, Brian McClendon, vice-president of Engineering Google Maps, said: “Users will be able to take maps offline from more than 100 countries. This means that the next time you are on the subway, or [if you] don't have a data connection, you can still use our maps.”

Google has also announced that it is going to add 3D texturing to the entire metropolitan cities on its Google Earth application for mobile devices. It has also released a video on its YouTube channel.

Offline maps could come in handy, especially in countries like India where data connectivity is erratic, and at a premium sometimes. But the application will still run on smartphones with GPS connectivity that it will use to locate the users' coordinates.

But Google is not the only player in the maps game. Finnish handset maker Nokia, which makes smartphones on both Microsoft Windows mobile and Symbian platforms, has been a key player with its Nokia Drive application, which is built into its smartphones.

On its official blog on June 7, a day after the Google announcement, Pino Bonneti of Nokia Maps team made a strong pitch for his company. “Offline maps are at the core of our navigation offering and we have been developing the perfect knowhow over the past six years. Offering offline maps is not only about giving the option to cache some data offline for later use, it's a complete experience,” he said.

“An offline experience is not only about street maps, it's also about offline available points of interest to enable offline search, it's about navigation voices available on-device and offline rerouting.”

Nokia Drive offers voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation services in over 110 countries, including India. The Lumia 800 Windows phone also offers navigation in Hindi.

The other big player expected to enter the maps game is Apple. There is speculation that the company is likely to announce a new 3D map application integrated into its mobile devices at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which begins in San Francisco on Monday (June 11).

Last year, the company acquired 3D mapping technology firm C3 Technologies, in one of its relatively few acquisitions in recent years. The company's iconic co-founder, Steve Jobs, was known to have a special interest in Maps.

Maps are one of the most used applications on smartphones. According to studies available for European markets from March, the usage of Maps is growing at a rate seven times more than mobile browsing.