SAN FRANCISCO - Google's doing a full sweep of its Maps products, looking to improve the experience for its 1 billion monthly active users.
At a press event at its downtown San Francisco offices, the company showed a number of new mapping features, including offline maps for Android phones, a new Street View camera contraption, and enhanced 3-D maps for Google Earth.
"As of today, Google Maps is going offline," said Rita Chen, a Google product manager, at the event. Soon, Chen said, you will be able to download a map to your Android phone so you won't have to be on a Wi-Fi or 3G network to see the streets or get directions.
If you are traveling abroad or when you are in pockets of the country that lack cellular service, you will be able to select an area or map and download it before your trip.
The offline maps feature has only been announced for Android phones and tablets. "We would like to get all services on all platforms," said Brian McClendon, V.P. of engineering for Google Maps.
Google is also taking steps with its Street View feature. Literally. On stage it announced the Street View Trekker, a 35-pound backpack-like contraption that will allow people to strap Street View panoramic cameras to their backs and capture off-road views.
Until now, Google has used cars, trikes, snowmobiles and trolleys to capture Street View imagery. The Trekker has an advanced camera and hooks into an Android phone to capture the data.
If you don't want an actual photo view, Google is improving its 3-D rendering. "Today we are excited to announce that we will begin adding 3-D models to entire metropolitan areas to Google Earth on mobile devices," McClendon said. While there have already been 3-D models, Google will now be looking to make entire cities, including buildings and terrain, three-dimensional. It's also begun using "automated technology to extract 3D from aerial images."
All of the Google map announcements come prior to Apple's WWDC event next week, where it is expected to announce its own mapping software - and its plans to drop Google Maps as the default map service on the iPhone and iPad. When asked about Apple's rumored plans, McClendon would only say, "I'm very proud of Google Maps services and I think we will continue to make Google map services available as widely as possible."