Mobile phones connected to the Internet are a wonderful thing, provided you can actually get a reliable connection to the Internet. That’s not always the case when in a dense city or a foreign country, which has led Google (NSDQ: GOOG) to start testing a feature that lets Android users download maps to their phones for offline use.
The company announced the new feature as part of its Google Labs projects, which are features that aren’t quite ready for prime time but represent some of the company’s most advanced thinking. A new version of Google Maps for mobile released yesterday also has a Labs tricks, such as “download map area” menu selection that does just that: downloads a map with a 10-mile radius around a selected area to your phone’s native storage.
You won’t be able to search for directions on that map when you access it offline; it’s basically like taking a screen shot. Still, people found their way around the world with static paper maps for centuries, and it’s definitely useful to have a tool at your disposal that isn’t always dependent on an Internet connection. Hopefully the Google Docs people are finally ready to follow suit later this summer.
Google is also experimenting with two smaller features through this Labs update. Maps users can now draw a line between two points on a map with just two taps to get an “as the crow flies” distance between two locations. It has also added a scale bar to the application that works at 20 different zoom levels to give you a basic idea of how far your intended destination is from your current one.