The new Google Maps 5 may have changed the way we use our phones for the foreseeable future with the new set of features that came with it. Your Maps app will now display 3D versions of cities, load faster, cache maps for offline viewing, and even allow you to navigate without a connection. It’s pretty amazing stuff and Google wants you to know more about it. Today, they released the secret behind this amazing new app, which they are calling “vector graphics.”
What are vector graphics? And how do they differ from the previous Maps approach?
…it may be helpful to understand how maps were created before. Previously, Google Maps downloaded the map as sets of individual 256×256 pixel “image tiles.” Each pre-rendered image tile was downloaded with its own section of map imagery, roads, labels and other features baked right in. Google Maps would download each tile as you needed it and then stitch sets together to form the map you see. It takes more than 360 billion tiles to cover the whole world at 20 zoom levels!
Now, we use vector graphics to dynamically draw the map. Maps will download “vector tiles” that describe the underlying geometry of the map. You can think of them as the blueprints needed to draw a map, instead of static map images. Because you only need to download the blueprints, the amount of data needed to draw maps from vector tiles is drastically less than when downloading pre-rendered image tiles. Google Maps isn’t the first mobile app to use vector graphics—in fact, Google Earth and our Navigation (Beta) feature do already. But a combination of modern device hardware and innovative engineering allow us to stream vector tiles efficiently and render them smoothly, while maintaining the speed and readability we require in Google Maps. Just try it out and see for yourself!
What about this offline navigation trick? How does that work?
With Google Maps Navigation (Beta), you’ll also see the benefits of additional caching with offline rerouting. This feature is only possible because Navigation caches not only map data but also data like turn restrictions for the areas surrounding your route. You’ll still need to be connected when you first start a trip to download and cache your route. But this way, even if you take a wrong turn after losing your connection, Navigation can use the cached data to get you back on your way. We will be rolling this feature out gradually over the next few weeks.
There is a ton of additional info that goes into much greater detail over at the Google Mobile Blog and I highly recommend that you check out . This new version of Maps really is going to change everything and Google promises that this is only the start.
Hit up this link to see the new Google Maps 5 in action.