Android users who downloaded the updated Maps application today got a nice surprise. Google Maps for Android now features offline viewing. To enable the new feature, simply navigate to the Labs section of the Maps application and enable the Download Map Area option. After this is enabled, each time you want to download maps for offline viewing you will need to visit a Place page, click the more button, and then select the option to store locally. Maps will then store a 10 mile radius, locally to your device.
Offline viewing is available for Android because of the way it displays the maps. Android uses a vector-based system for displaying map tiles, where the iPhone uses an image based. This means Android can pull maps using about 1/100th of the data the iPhone would. Maybe we’ll see a change to the iPhone’s Google Maps soon.