As rumored, Google Maps will now allow you to download map data locally to your phone, so you can still get detailed information even when you’re outside of coverage. Currently available in the Maps Labs, all you have to do is find a Place page that you intend to be visiting, go to the More section, and hit Download map area. That will save everything within a 10-mile radius, but won’t include satellite view, 3D buildings, or enable you to get directions without a data connection. Stored map data can be wiped at any time, and is automatically cleaned up after 30 days.
Google Maps Labs also offers a few other tools, like a scale bar to get a feel for just how zoomed-in you are on a map, and a measuring tool to figure out roughly how far point A is from point B. Of course, Google Maps at its core offers a lot of great functions, like voice-activated search, Latitude for tracking friends, and recently they’ve added stop-by-stop transit navigation.
Offline caching is a huge addition for Google Maps, especially for frequent travelers that would rather not rack up roaming fees when figuring out how to get around an unfamiliar city. Personally, I wouldn’t mind have the option to permanently download detailed map data for a particular city, if only to help speed up load times even when I’m at home. Hopefully this feature will graduate from beta status soon enough and Google will tack on a few more options. Smartphone storage is squeaking over 32 GB, and it’s not used for much other than music. That said, it’s easy to imagine map data becoming a major use case for smartphone owners that aren’t big on using their phone for music, or already have a dedicated media player for that sort of thing.
If you don’t already have Google Maps for some reason, it’s available in the Android Market.