Google Maps adds features ahead of Apple’s rumored WWDC map reveal

Google has announced some new features for its Maps service, taking online maps to the next level. The announcement comes as the technology community watches what happens to the relationship between Apple and Google in the maps space — rumor has it that Apple will ditch Google Maps for its own Map app on the iPhone and other devices.

Regardless — or perhaps in spite — of those rumors, Google announced three major new features for its Maps application: 3D modeling, expanded error reporting and offline access.

In a company blog post, Google Maps’ vice president of engineering Brian McClendon said that Google has been “obsessed” with building great maps for the last decade. “We’ve made more progress, more quickly as an industry than I ever imagined possible,” he wrote. “And we expect innovation to speed-up even more over the next few years. While we may never create the perfect map … we’re going to get much, much closer than we are today.”

One way the Google will do this is by adding more 3D modeling to its maps, now for entire metropolitan areas. The company has an ambitious plan to have 3D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people by the end of the year. The company said a “combination of our new imagery rendering techniques and computer vision” will create full cityscapes, with buildings, terrain — “and even landscaping” at a 45-degree aerial angle.

Google will be adding a fleet of on-foot backpack cameras to its arsenal of cars, bicycles and snowmobiles that document the world for the service, but it is also relying on more of its users for timely, accurate changes to the world map.

Many world users have been able to report errors to Google through its MapMaker function, something that the company announced Wednesday that it will extend to users in South Africa, Egypt and 10 other countries including Finland, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

Finally, the company will be allowing offline access to its maps for Android users in “more than 100 countries.”

According to Google, users will have to download a map before they go offline to use the feature, but will be able to interact with the map as if they were online using GPS technology without a network connection. The feature will roll out over the next few weeks, the company said.

The feature is one that users have been asking for, McClendon wrote, and has the potential to significantly upgrade Google Maps’ functionality, since users will not have to worry about bad connections wiping their directions.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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