Google Maps is clearly a strategic product for the company. But that’s even more true on the iPhone and Android devices — especially Android. One could even make an argument that search on Maps is more important than general web search on mobile for Google.
For some time Google has been adding enhancements to Google Maps (including Navigation) on the Android OS. And now comes what appears to be a kind of breakthrough that allows maps to be rendered dynamically, with much less data, and simultaneously offer enhanced 3D imagery. It’s not clear whether this upgrade will make it to the iPhone and other smartphone platforms (probably unlikely).
The difference in the current and new versions of Maps for Mobile is illustrated by the two following images. The first, on the left, shows the present rendering of Maps (on the iPhone) while the second image is a screen from the forthcoming Google Maps upgrade for Android:
The new, richer 3D buildings will automatically appear as you descend to the street level. Rendering will apparently be much smoother at every level of zoom as well. Vectors have replaced tiles.
The point was made to me that Google Maps for Mobile had always been “North and flat.” Now the map’s orientation will change with the user. As you move through a city, the compass will rotate or shift the map’s orientation so the rendering of streets and buildings will correspond to the your perspective on the physical world (akin to Google Navigation).
The second major enhancement is “offline reliability.” The new Maps for Mobile will work without a persistent data connection. It extends to rerouting in Google Navigation, while not connected. And this starts to give Maps for Mobile the persistence of a paper map.
The new version of Maps for Mobile on Android will roll out “soon” (a matter of days).
Initially there will be 100 cities that get the new maps. According to Google this will include “70 within the US (including SF, NYC, Boston, LA, New Orleans, Chicago, Tampa) and more than 30 internationally (such as Melbourne, Toronto, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Dublin, Florence, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Venice, Zurich, and Buenos Aires).”
Google’s Andy Rubin demonstrates the new 3D functionality on an unreleased Android tablet at the AllThingsD mobile conference.