While most media attention about Apple Maps has centered on bridges on dry land, landmarks that don’t exists and other oddities, the digital cartographers at Cupertino, Calif. have been stuffing the app with some amazing features, like offline browsing. Unlike maps in iOS 5, Apple’s vector-based Maps are cached and GPS navigation work even without an Internet connection.

For instance, Apple’s vector maps loaded while in San Francisco, Calif. can still be browsed on a flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Lima, Peru, according to AppleInsider. The writer was able to navigate across the state and via street-level maps as far west as Salt Lake City, Utah — and in 3D, to boot. By comparison, Google Maps, which use bitmap tiles, would let you navigate offline for about a 10 mile radius before complaining.

“This vastly expanded new capability allows travelers to load detailed maps for a very large area and navigate around via GPS, which remains active even if you turn mobile roaming off,” according to the site. In iOS 5 Maps, you were lucky if you could even see a map for half of one city when offline.

What’s more, the vector maps reduce data usage by an estimated 80 percent.

To take advantage of this offline caching feature of Apple Maps, pick out an area you want to check out while offline. Zoom into a street-level map. Once you turn off your signal (or the signal is lost), Maps will let you zoom back into the area you selected.

But what about Android?

Native Google Maps on Android and Windows Phone reportedly also use vector maps. But if you are an iOS user relegated to the Web version, you are stuck with bitmapped map tiles. To gain vector maps on anything but Apple Maps, Google would have to offer an iOS version of its native apps. Google recently said it is up to Apple to offer an iOS version. This is where we insert the warning about not holding your breath.

Because vectors in your web browser is a strain, don’t expect Apple Maps on the web, either. More likely will be a native Mac app.

The ability of Apple Maps offline caching could open up a whole new market for the company. It is easy to see Apple releasing a set of specialized maps for iOS 6 users to browse. How about a map of Yosemite when you are far from any signal? Or you could browse your new neighborhood before even touching down in a city.

‘Mapgate’? That was so yesterday.


    • MagicDrumSticks

      Sorry but it took google 7 long years to get its map
      System to where it is today. If you think Apple can just come in and surpass it in 2 years, especially with their lack of mapping staff, you are truly a fool and a hopeless fanboy.

      • I don’t agree with you because Apple in a short period of time had a really good start and they’re fast in implementing changes.

      • They’re not implementing changes in Australia… and trust me, there are so many problems with our maps. They are fast, lag free, great 3D… but far too inaccurate. We have towns without names, town locations markers I’m the wrong places… and hardly any information…. because we dong use Yelp too often in Australia. Apple need to localise their maps, not just assume they can run the world from America.

  • Infone

    Yes, I noticed this when I flew to Mexico recently. I leave it in Airplane mode to not get an outrageous bill, but the maps I had viewed of Mexico still worked!

  • Roy

    After I run out of data credit last week, I could not use the GPS on my iPhone 4S running ios6

  • Well put I’ve had iOS 6 since June and I’ve never had a problem with it

  • Kok Hean

    I think this was a feature in the old Maps app too.

  • This caching was also possible on the older iOS versions. I would do it all the time. I just wish that you could download and cache an entire state or region instead of having to manually go through what you think you will need.

  • mashman

    Even 3 years later STILL can’t preload maps!

    My wife doesn’t have a data plan, so if she’s somewhere and needs directions, she’s screwed if she uses Apple Maps! You can’t load maps for a region to use for offline searches. The ability to download map data for regions has always been available for Nokia Here, but Apple won’t even allow you to disable the crappy Maps app!

    Apple is horrible, they tell people what to use (their stuff), and tell them it’s cool, and the freaking lemmings believe them! Wake up you idiots!