Monday, 4 August 2014

Why my Google Maps is old

Google Maps from way back then

Google updates its Maps app every once in a while, adding new features, upgrading existing functionality, and squashing the occasional bug.

But I haven't updated my copy of Google Maps for Android for over a year. Not on my phone, not on my tablet. Here's why:

Maps without paying for data roaming

A great feature of an ancient Google Maps update was the ability to store maps on your memory card for offline use. Mapping out a route still requires a live internet connection, but route planning only uses a tiny fraction of the data that the maps themselves gobble up.

That's not much of an issue on WiFi or an unlimited data plan, but what if you're roaming in a country where data costs a fortune and free WiFi is non-existant in most places?

If you're just using the app as a city map the answer is easy: download the map when you're on WiFi or before you leave your country, then use it for free as you walk the streets

If you're driving in a country with expensive data and no free WiFi on the highways (that's just about every country on the planet if you cross the border), you can download the route over WiFi in your hotel, or grudgingly pay the international bytes for grabbing the route, and then hit the road without paying anything extra.

But all of this only works if you store the maps you need onboard.

Google gives, Google takes

Three years ago Google Maps for Android finally offered the possibility to download maps for offline use. At first, it was limited to tiny little blocks of 15x15 miles, but since you could download ten of them you could easily fit an entire metropolis on your phone.

And then things got better. Two years ago the download limit increased to about 80 MB (enough for really big cities). Instead of ten maps you could only download six, but the increased size per map meant that you could fit small countries on your phone's memory card.

Too bad that a later update cut things back down again. Sometime last year the maximum download size reduced to the point where large cities wouldn't fit on a map.

London and Paris are too big

Try to download a map of all of London within the M25 with a recent version of Google Maps and you'll face with the message: "Area too large. Zoom in." That sucks big time if you want to move between Central London and your friends place out in the suburbs.

Compare that to the old Google Maps which would hold the Greater London Area including the airports, all the way from Luton and Stansted to Heathrow, City, and Gatwick.

Paris? Same problem. Recent editions of Google Maps won't store Charles de Gaulle airport and Versailles on the same map, whereas the old version holds all of Paris and its distant suburbs all away to the far-out Beauvais airport, deceptively labeled "Paris" by unscrupulous discount airlines like Ryanair.

Good old Google Maps stores Brussels and Antwerp and the highway that connects them in a single download, new Google Maps won't.

And in The Netherlands a single old Google Maps download gets you the four biggest cities of the Randstad conurbation. Use your quota of six stored maps and you can put the entire country on your Android gadget. The new Maps app doesn't get anywhere near that.

Check the screenshots in the picture for the difference between old and new. It makes a world of difference, or at least a city or two.

Newer is not always better

Sure, I could store much larger parts of the world in apps that use OpenStreetMap (e.g. OsmAnd or MapFactor), but those maps often fail to deliver outside the major cities in Europe and America, especially on the navigation part.

So that's why I keep a copy of good old Google Maps v6.14 on my Androids, and not the current version (v8.20.0 as of August 4, 2014). The features in the update just can't compete with the extra onboard storage of my vintage Google Maps.

• Big maps: Google Maps 6.14.x on xda (scroll through the pages, there are many different versions)
• Small maps: latest Google Maps in the Google Play Store

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