If smartphones are killing the market for standalone GPS units, then Google Maps for mobile 5 is the last nail in the coffin as Google puts the competition into the ground. Not only does this version, which previewed on the Motorola tablet prototype running Android 3.0, offer rough 3D views of locations, but it stores maps for offline viewing. Hear that? That is the sound of inevitability.
The three-dimensional maps are built dynamically using vector-based graphics. This enables them to load and scale quickly while providing a 3D view. More importantly, because they’re built from map data, not bitmap graphics, the file size is small enough to allow for maps to be stored locally, specifically those of places you visit most often. In other words, you won’t be dependent on a data connection for maps you use regularly. I would expect this also cuts down on data usage while you are connected, easing the usual battery drain.
For makers of navigation devices and software, this is a huge blow as they regularly tout their ability to function without a data connection as an advantage over free services such as Google Maps. They retain a slight edge with turn-by-turn directions (still considered “beta” on GM), but that won’t last. With cached maps on top of street view, real-time traffic, and social networking Latitude, map makers need to carve out their own niches or get swept away.
Phones that support the 3D rendering and multitouch control of the 3D view include the Galaxy S line, the DROID line (minus the Eris), HTC EVO, G2, and the new Nexus S. A notable exception is the Nexus One which does not support the control required to manipulate the 3D map. However, that’s only for the 3D view, not map caching.