Google Maps is offline

Update February 2016:  We are issuing a long overdue update to this article, Google has more recently rolled out a new set of features and functions for offline use of Google Maps, most notably including the ability to start and use navigation in offline mode.

Google Maps Offline 1

The idea is simple, read the article below, then return back up here to see what the new features are. Aside from a few new UI changes, the basic procedure remains the same: load Maps, navigate to the area you wish to download, download it and off you go. This time around, it is easier if you long press on a location on the map to drop a pin, then in the location information section that pops up, hit the Download button to continue.

Google Maps Offline 3

The map area will download for offline use. This remains at the default 30 days before the map expires, luckily, Google has added automatic updates to your offline maps. These auto updates are optional, of course, but a nice feature so that you do not have to remember to hit the update button while you have a million other things going on as you try to get out the door. Although, I recommend hitting that update button anyway, if you remember, it’s worthwhile to have the most recent update possible.

Google Maps Offline 4

Navigating with your new offline maps is the same basic procedure as you would experience them when online, go to your places or long press on new locations to get directions. As you might expect, and as was true before, traffic info will not be available, this exclusion also includes those automatic suggestions for alternate routes.

Thanks to a bunch of you in our comments, the excellent recommendation to use Here maps as an alternative for offline navigation was priceless. We commend Google for having probably the best overall map quality and information tool on the planet, but when it comes to using our devices for offline navigation, Here maps is king.

Google Maps Offline 2

Related reading:
Google Maps adds Driving Mode
Google Maps contributors can get up to 1TB of free Drive storage

Original post August 2015: Last week on our Android customization series we took a look at using YouTube TV, that is, using your Android device to remotely control YouTube. We are sticking with Google apps again this week, bringing you another tutorial for the beginning Android users in the crowd. Specifically, we are diving into the world of using your Google Maps offline.

Note: I say again, this piece is designed for new Android users or those looking for a little refresher. The following info and functionality has been around for a long time now, we will not be introducing anything new here, I don’t think.

Before we begin

Maps on Google PlayThere are few requirements to follow along today, obviously you’ll need a newer Android phone with a fairly recent copy of Google Maps installed. Google Maps likely came pre-installed on your Android device, but if you need, you can grab a fresh copy for free from the Google Play Store.

The ups and downs of Google Maps

Google Maps is a solid navigation tool, on top of being a popular mapping application. Thing is, Maps works best when there is a solid internet connection, leaving you almost completely lost if that connection goes away. Many years ago Google built in a tool to overcome this, allowing you to download all of the info needed to navigate an area. This next image is the exact same location before and after saving the area offline.

Google Maps online offline

The map download feature lets you cache an area about the size of a typical North American city, or the area of a pretty hard-core day hike.

Before I show you how to save a map area for offline use, let’s discuss some of the difficulties you may experience with the process.

First and foremost, Google offers the offline maps for an unpredictably limited amount of time. As the actual world changes, so do the maps – perhaps a street has been added or removed from your area, or maybe just a few new business have come online in Maps, either way, when Google updates their Maps, you will need to re-download your saved map areas. Plain and simply, if you are headed for a month long adventure offline, Google Maps offline will likely not work for you.

Case in point, I saved Portland as an offline map for this article, you see screenshots below saying I have 30 days remaining until the map expires, but look now, with 29 days remaining, Maps tells me an update is required. (If I were already on the road, I’d be without maps until I can reconnect, making this tool somewhat useless, thanks a lot Google.)

Google Maps update offline area

From there, offline maps have limited functionality for searches and navigation, as you might have expected. You can certainly load directions to your offline destination and the cached navigation directions will get you there. However, even with the map area downloaded ahead of time, you won’t be able to reverse your trip, I hope you know your own way home, or at lease can follow the map without navigation.

Finally, you can only download six offline areas at this time. With the idea of downloading exactly what you need in the hours before setting off on your adventure, this is about all you’d need for most situations. However, it does mean, if on a road trip, you may have to stop half way through to remove your first set of maps and load the remaining maps to get to your destination. I’ve been there, not fun.

That’s really the extent of the difficulties, and unfortunately, this means that if you are like me, you’ve given up trying to use Google Maps for any significant offline use. I just hope you don’t learn the hard way like I did, that is, in the middle a major hike with no internet in sight and misplaced paper maps to find my way out of the mountains. Good times.

How to use your Google Maps offline

Now to the point of our topic today, here is how you use the offline functionality in Google Maps.

To get started, make sure you have a solid internet connection, preferably WiFi, as you may be downloading 80MB or more per saved map area.

Google Maps Offline save area1

Open maps and navigate to roughly the area you wish to save for offline use.

Tap the search box at the top.

Scroll all the way to the bottom of the list that just popped up to find Save for offline use. (Or, you can enter the text “ok maps” and hit enter.)

You will now need to zoom and scroll to the exact area you would like to save, making sure it is a small enough area to allow the save, then hit the Download button.

Google Maps Offline save area2

Provide a name to your saved area and hit Save.

The map area will download, this is usually about 80MB for a fully zoomed out map of a big city, less for the sparse information of the open country.

There you have it, your chosen map area is now available for offline use, go ahead, go into airplane mode and give it a try.

What’s next

Once your maps are downloaded, Google now gives you 30 days until they expire. It is a simple task to re-download the map area when you need it again, head into Your Places and click on the expired map area listings at the bottom.

Google Maps Offline settings

Taking a quick trip offline, but don’t need the entire area saved? Navigation works offline just by simply setting up your route when you have a connection. Maps will automatically download the info you need to get to your destination. This is completely independent of your manually downloaded map areas, as discussed today. Once your route is configured, Maps will hold the data at least until you arrive at your goal, or until Maps is turned off on your device.

Please remember that you still cannot initiate navigation with Google Maps offline, the downloaded map areas are simply there to look at. As long as your device is equipped with GPS, you still have a powerful tool on your hands for finding your way, you’ll just have to do it without traffic data or any of the many other tools tucked into this powerful Google service.

Next week

I know this week’s Android customization post was an old topic, that most of you already know how to use your Google Maps offline, but for those that did not, I hope this helped you out. Next week we will shift gears for you, let’s look at a true customization project, not just a ‘how-to’ article, let’s go absolutely crazy with the customization apps, we will use IF, Pushbullet, Tasker and Zooper Widget to bring our podcast, or any notification, to your Homescreen. The project is a little crazy, but stick with it, it’s a good refresher on integrating the services.

What do you say, is Google Maps your travel partner, or do you entrust your whereabouts to another mapping service?

More customization and mapping tools:

Jonathan Feist
Android purist and enthusiast, rarely more than arms reach from a stock Nexus 7. Often accused of being a Google fanboy, proud of it. Proponent for Android customization and personalization, if you can change it, make it your own!
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