Google overhauls its Maps app with new features, but (kinda) kills offline mode

Revamped Google Maps app packs a ton of handy new features, but also drops a few

Patience is a virtue. During Google I/O in May, the search giant introduced a new version of Maps for Android and iOS featuring Waze-style navigation, easier discovery for nearby hotspots, Google Offers, and Zagat integration. The updated version of Maps finally started rolling out to Android smartphones and tablets this week.

Rerouting in the Google Maps app
Rerouting in the Google Maps app

The newest features for Maps are basically the same features we heard about in May during Google I/O. The interface has been overhauled to more closely match Google's new design norm, while Android slates and iPads will be getting a tablet-optimized version of Maps--a first for the service.

There's a new Explore section that displays search results in a card-style interface for local businesses such as nearby restaurants and shops. To access the new feature, tap the search box and Explore cards will start popping up. There's also a new five-point rating system for local businesses that includes reviews from Google+ users.

The Zagat badge of approval and curated lists will also show up in search results for restaurants and local watering holes. Google Offers will also start appearing in Maps on locations of national brands, such as Macy's and Toys 'R' Us, that are offering deals through Google's digital coupon service.

Getting where you need to go

Google picked up Waze in June for a reported $1 billion price tag, but the search giant began working on Waze-like features (which appear to use TomTom traffic information) for Maps long before.

The new Maps for Android features road reports during navigation to keep you appraised of any trouble spots down the road.

If Maps does spot a problem that's really snarling traffic, the app will try to save you time by rerouting you around the problem. Some of the new navigation features won't be coming to iOS right away once the new Maps experience rolls out to Apple devices, however.

And while the Maps update is a strong one overall, that last tidbit is far from the only negative change to come along with all the good.

The new Explore feature in the Google Maps app
The new Explore feature in the Google Maps app

Ch-ch-ch-changes

The new Maps app comes with a few surprises that may irk longtime Maps fans.

Most crucially, Google's offline maps feature has been wiped from the new version--but it isn't gone completely. Typing "OK Maps" into the search bar will automatically download the area of the map you're viewing for offline use. Way to hide an important feature behind a secretive Glass-centric Easter Egg, Google.

Latitude has also been stricken from the new Maps app and the service will be officially retired on Friday, August 9, 2013. Fans of Latitude can turn to a similar feature on Google+ called "Locations" that was introduced in May.

Finally, the My Maps feature, that displays personalized maps you've created, won't show up in this latest version of the app; however, Google says My Maps will return in future versions.

The new Maps for Android is rolling out gradually to all users worldwide; if you don't see the new Maps experience on your Android phone yet, you should soon, while iOS users will have to wait a few weeks longer. The new Maps for Android is available for any device running Android 4.0.3, Ice Cream Sandwich or later.

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Tags mobile applicationsInternet-based applications and servicesGoogleappsMapsWazemobileGPS & navigation software

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Ian Paul

TechHive (US)

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