Apple Maps offers automatic caching for offline navigation

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.