The next release of Google Maps web app brings 3D buildings, vector maps, offline caching mode, and snappier performance. The news of Google Maps for Mobile 5 reached us during an on-stage interview with Google’s Android chief Andy Rubin at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference, where he also unveiled Google’s Cr-48 notebook, flashed Motorola’s Android 3.0 tablet, and announced Chrome’s Crankshaft optimization compiler for Javascript. 

Although the executive wouldn’t pledge to a specific release date, he previewed key enhancements running on a prototype Motorola tablet powered by an early version of Android 3.0 "Honeycomb". First of all, Google Maps will add offline caching mode that will store mapping data retrieved from the cloud into your browser storage. As a result, you’ll be able to navigate around the local landmarks you’ve already visited even when offline.

Cached data will allow the web app to retrace your route should you hit the no-signal zone while in the GPS Navigation mode – this could be a real life-savior. Oh, and while in the Navigation mode, it’ll tap your phone’s compass sensor to figure out when you turn. The search firm also upped the ante in the art department by having 3D models of buildings for more than a hundred cities rendered on the main map view. In fact, the entire map is now comprised of vector data rendered on the device.

Previously, Google Maps client would retrieve bitmap tiles rendered in the Google cloud. What vectors give you is a crisp representation regardless of your device’s resolution and smoother network performance because vector images download faster and make caching easier. Also in the works: New multitouch gestures so you can use two fingers to tilt and rotate your view. Finally, the web-centric app will load faster thanks to caching and feel snappier due to code optimizations.

Best of all, this new version of Google Maps will run on Android 1.6 or later, not just brand spanking new smartphones driven by the latest Android version. However, not all droids support all the features, but the ones that do include Samsung’s I9000 Galaxy S, Motorola’s Droid, Droid 2, and Droid X, HTC’s Droid Incredible and Evo 4G, Nexus S, and T-Mobile G2.

Since Google Maps for Mobile is an HTML5 web app, smartphone and tablet platforms other than Android can run it as well, including the iPhone and iPad. Until Google Maps for Mobile gets updated to version 5, you can access the current version by pointing your mobile browser to m.google.com/maps.

Source: Engadget