updated 01:05 pm EST, Thu December 16, 2010
Google Maps 5 now live
In step with the launch of the Nexus S, Google today posted its promised Google Maps 5.0 (Android Market). The app shown last week makes 3D its central feature and now shows 3D building models at a close-up zoom level. Phone owners can either manually spin and zoom the view with multi-touch gestures or, if the phone has a compass, let it auto-rotate the view as the phone changes direction.
The vector-based mapping system is also now in place and provides a much more useful map when offline. It can dynamically render parts of the map that weren't already part of the original scene and thus can keep directions going even if the user wanders outside of the originally planned route. Google estimates that the method also uses about 70 percent less data than the old tile system and thus isn't subject to the same roaming cost problems Garmin criticized in trying to keep users on dedicated GPS.
Maps will auto-cache areas whenever the phone is on Wi-Fi and powered on, Google said. Full offline rerouting and caching aren't in place but should improve over time.
The 5.0 update is a free update for every Android 1.6 or higher device, though only those with 2.0 or later can get the 3D features; it will also be a staple of tablets with Android 3.0. Some features also depend on the city, country and graphics performance of the phone.