Welcome to The next generation of mobile maps

I’m excited to announce Google Maps 5.0 for Android, with two significant new features: 3D interaction and offline reliability.

We launched Google Maps for mobile a little more than five years ago. Since then, we’ve added dozens of features, and we’ve grown from a few thousand to more than 100 million users. Still, a couple of things have remained the same: a flat, north-up map and the need for a strong Internet connection. Today, we’re changing that for the first time.

Tilt while zoomed in (left) or use compass mode (right) to orient yourself with 3D buildings.

Explore maps in 3D
Until now, Google Maps has always downloaded the map as a set of small, square images that we stitch together to form the map you see. (You’ve probably seen those gray squares getting filled in, block-by-block, as the images load over the network.) Starting today, we’ll use vector graphics to dynamically draw the map on your device as you use it, allowing you to interact with it in new ways:

  • Tilting: Drag down with two fingers to tilt the map. Tilt while zoomed in on one of the 100+ cities around the world with 3D buildings to see a skyline spring to life.
  • Rotating: Twist with two fingers to rotate the map. After tilting to see 3D buildings, rotate around them to gain a new perspective from any direction.
  • Smooth zooming: Slide two fingers together or apart, and see the map and labels continuously scale to any zoom level, stopping when your fingers stop.
  • Compass mode: Center the map on your location, and then tap the compass button in the top right corner. The map will flip into 3D mode and start rotating to match your perspective, while still keeping all the labels upright and readable.

I found 3D buildings especially useful on a recent trip to New York. From my hotel to the Google office in Chelsea and bars on the Lower East Side, this richer representation of the real world made the map much more helpful. And whenever I walked out of a building or subway station, I used compass mode to get myself quickly oriented and on my way. Check out the video below to see tilt, rotation, zoom and compass mode in action, or see more pictures.

Offline reliability
Google Maps has always been, and continues to be, a fundamentally Internet-connected experience, meaning you always get the freshest map and place data, search and voice search, live traffic conditions, satellite and Street View imagery, and much more. Still, we understand that mobile Internet connections aren’t 100% reliable. So today we’re happy to take the first steps toward greater offline reliability, so you can find your way even if you lose your connection.

In the past, you’ve probably had frustrating moments when you get stranded without a map, whether ducking into the subway, sitting at the back of a restaurant or traveling anywhere with a flaky Internet connection. But dynamically drawing maps requires 100 times less data to get maps across all zoom levels, so now we’re able to proactively cache (or store) large areas on your device based on where you use Maps the most. This way, you can rely on having fast, robust maps available to you where you’re most likely to need them.

For example, I live in San Francisco and work in Mountain View, so Maps makes sure I can always pull up detailed street maps of each city and area maps for the whole San Francisco Bay Area. When I do have an Internet connection, I still get live traffic, imagery, richer map details and all the other features I’m used to with Google Maps.

Rather than having a static set of maps when installed, Maps will automatically start caching the areas you visit the most when your device is plugged in and connected to WiFi (e.g., the nightly charge). We’re already hard at work improving the algorithms and technology behind these features, so over time you can expect to see maps work better in more offline situations.

Offline rerouting
If you’re one of the more than 10 million people relying on Google Maps Navigation (Beta), our free turn-by-turn GPS navigation feature, losing your Internet connection can be particularly painful. (This happened to me on a recent ski trip to Tahoe, and I was left trying to manually find my way back to my route.) So we’re also introducing offline rerouting. You’ll still need a connection to start a route, but if you miss a turn along the way, we’ll quickly get you back on track, even if you don’t have an Internet connection. We’ll be rolling this feature out gradually over the next few weeks.

Google Maps Navigation now automatically reroutes you, even if you lose your connection.

These new features are just the first steps in maximizing dynamic map drawing technology to create a faster, more interactive experience where efficiency really matters: mobile devices. For example, we estimate that viewing maps now requires almost 70% less mobile network data overall than before. We can’t wait to take the next steps in making Google Maps faster, more reliable and even more useful no matter where you take it.

Get Google Maps for mobile 5.0 by searching for Google Maps in Android Market (or tap on this link if you’re on your phone). Android 1.6+ devices can get Maps 5.0, but 3D and offline features require Android 2.0+, and some features may not be supported for all devices or countries.

So try it out. Wander around in compass mode, explore 3D buildings—even dare to open Maps on the subway! I hope you enjoy all the new features as much as we do.

Posted by Michael Siliski, Product Manager


Priority Inbox for Gmail for Android and 44 more languages to the mobile webapp version of Gmail

The following new features are now available to all Google Apps domains:

Gmail for Android:
Priority Inbox – You can now see important messages in a new Priority Inbox view, see the importance markers and change the importance of conversations, just like in the desktop version. Additionally, you can now set up your phone to notify, vibrate, or ring on just your new important mail.

Improved Compose – You can now easily switch between reply, reply all and forward while composing your response. As well as that, if you’ve configured the ‘custom from’ feature in the desktop version of Gmail, you can now also send email from that address. Finally, you can also now respond to messages in-line.

Gmail webapp: Previously only available in U.S. English, the HTML5 webapp version of Gmail is now available to 44 languages.

The new languages are: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (UK and American), Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Norwegian (Bokmal), Polish, Portuguese (for both Portugal and Brazil), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukranian, Urdu and Vietnamese.

Editions included:
Google Apps, Google Apps for Business, Government and Education

How to access what’s new:
Priority Inbox: In ‘Settings’, select Priority Inbox as the default inbox view and configure your notifications to be just for your important mail. This version of the Gmail app works for Android 2.2 (Froyo) and newer releases in most countries. (Not sure if your device is running the right version? Check here.)

Gmail mobile webapp: If your phone’s default language is one of those listed, go to gmail.com in your phone’s browser and the new interface will appear in your language automatically. This new version works for iPhones running iOS 2.2.1 and above, and all versions of Android.

For more information:

Vector-Based Google Maps for Android

Google’s Andy Rubin showed at the Dive Into Mobile conference an early prototype of a Motorola tablet running Android Honeycomb and demoed a new version of Google Maps for Android with vector-based maps and offline caching.

Engadget says that Google Maps 5.0 for Android will be available in the coming days, but not all Android devices will support the new features. “The biggest visual change is dynamic map drawing: vectors instead of flat images that scale without render hiccups and will show the buildings fleshed out for over 100 cities — we gotta say, it looks great. Even more fun is that you can now use two fingers to tilt and rotate around the map (in addition to moving and pinch-to-zoom, of course). We’ve been told it’s a much snappier experience, and the storage for these vectors is much smaller than the current images, which brings us to… offline caching. Maps will keep on file the locations that you go to (and search) most often, and it’ll be able to reroute while offline in Navigation.”

{ Thanks, Daniel and François. }

You Can’t Google Search for Android from an Android Phone

This is a really strange bug. If you use Google to search for [android], [android market] or [android phone] from an Android phone, you won’t get any result. Google only shows ads related to your query and a standard message: “Your search did not match any documents”.

It’s not clear if this is an Android bug or a Google search bug, but it’s certainly not an Easter egg. If you don’t have an Android phone, try this page to use the Android-optimized interface.

Update: it seems that the same bug affects Google’s iPhone interface and there are many other queries that don’t return any result. “When signed into the mobile site, I see some search results, but not for all queries. I’m on a Nexus One. In the classic interface, everything works fine,” says a Google user. “I’m having the same issue on an iPhone 4. No results for super common terms, but images and location searches are unaffected,” confirms another user.

{ Thanks, Andrew. }

An Android Keyboard that Uses Google Scribe

Google Scribe may not seem very useful, but it’s one of the features that could significantly improve virtual keyboards from mobile phones. Instead of showing suggestions from a dictionary, Google Scribe can provide contextually-relevant suggestions.

Scrybe is a free Android keyboard that uses Google Scribe to generate suggestions. It’s not developed by Google and it uses an unofficial Google Scribe API, but it’s an interesting application.

Scrybe needs to fix many issues to become really useful. If you delete some letters from word, Scrybe is not able to detect that you’re not writing a new word. Another problem is that you can’t type very fast because Scrybe tries to fetch the suggestions.

Reddit users think that SwiftKey has a better approach: it preloads the data, so there’s no lag. “So this is basically the same thing as SwiftKey, but offloaded to Google’s servers? Seems to work well, but no better (and slower) than SwiftKey,” says Podspi. SwiftKey is $3.99 and there’s a two-week trial.

{ Thanks, David M. }

Google Apps highlights – This week

Improvements to Gmail in mobile Safari
If you’re reading this post on an iPhone or an iPad, head over to gmail.com to see how we made the Gmail experience in mobile Safari work more like a native application. First, scrolling is a whole lot more responsive to your touch gestures. A quick flick will scroll the page much faster than before. We’ve also improved the toolbar so it stays put at the top of the screen, even when you scroll down a long page. This keeps the most common actions in Gmail right at your fingertips—literally.

Chart improvements and drag-and-drop images in Google Docs
Last Tuesday we added the ability to drag and drop images to Google documents from your desktop or from folders on your computer. You can still add images through the image upload wizard, but this new method can save time, especially when you have several images to add. This week we also rolled out improvements to charts and visualizations in Google spreadsheets. You can now add annotated timelines, organizational charts, gauges, motion charts that visualize data changing over time, and other chart types more easily. The new chart editor helps you customize the design of your charts, and now you can publish dynamic charts on other web pages that automatically update when data in the source spreadsheet changes.

Automated workflow in Google Sites with Google Apps Script
Last week we introduced the ability for you to add automated workflow to Google Sites, powered by Google Apps Script. Scripts automate tasks such as sending emails, scheduling calendar events, creating and updating site pages using data from other systems, and more. For example, you can put a button on a course registration page that adds the course to the user’s calendar, sends them a confirmation email and includes their name in the course roster within the site.

Android device management
Just yesterday, we added the ability for businesses and schools using Google Apps to remotely manage security on users’ Android devices (Android 2.2 and beyond), whether those devices are user-owned or provided by the organization. This update rounds out our device management capabilities; now administrators can perform functions like remotely wiping Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile and many Nokia phones from the Google Apps control panel without needing any special hardware or software. Administrators running BlackBerry® Enterprise Server can manage their users’ BlackBerry® devices from the control panel as well.

App Tuesday: seven new additions to the Apps Marketplace
The number of third-party software applications available in the Google Apps Marketplace that seamlessly integrate with Google Apps continues on its rapid growth trajectory. This month, we added seven new applications that complement the growing set of applications offered directly by Google. We were especially pleased to see strong international representation among this new crop.

Who’s gone Google?
Google Apps is really taking off, and we’re excited to team up in the cloud with Virgin America. But they’re not the only large organization to “go Google” recently. Multnomah County in Oregon is moving 4,500 county employees to Google Apps, and the state of Wyoming is doing an even larger deployment with 10,000 state employees. Across the board, these organizations chose to switch because of substantial cost savings and tremendous productivity improvements made possible with Google Apps.

In the last few weeks alone, tens of thousands of small and mid-size businesses have switched to Google Apps, too. Several of these new customers have shared their stories with us, and we invite you to read more here: Jason’s Deli, MainStreet Advisors, Melrose Resources, American Support and Premier Guitar.

We also reached a big milestone in the education world recently: more than 10 million students, faculty and staff are actively using Google Apps at schools and universities worldwide. While we’re focused on bringing the next 10 million education users onto Google Apps, we still took some time to celebrate how far we’ve already come—with the help of the USC marching band!

I hope these updates help you and your organization get even more from Google Apps. For details and the latest news in this area, check out the Google Apps Blog.

Posted by Jeremy Milo,

More People Can Buy Apps from the Android Market

If there’s one thing that Google should do to improve Android, it’s developing a better Android Market. Google’s app store has a lot of limitations, it still doesn’t have a desktop interface, applications are priced in multiple currencies, and it’s not easy to find new applications.

Android Developers Blog announced that people from 18 additional countries will be able to buy Android apps. The new countries are: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, and Taiwan. Google says that paid apps will be available over the next two weeks. Android Market’s paid apps will be available in 32 countries and Google promises to bring them to even more countries in the coming months.

Now that many other companies develop Android app stores, Google has to improve the Android Market if it doesn’t want to see too many Android phones without the market.

Android Market and Piracy

Google has recently released a licensing service for Android applications that is supposed to make it more difficult to pirate paid apps. The service is not yet part of the operating system and it works by sending a query to Google’s servers in order to determine if the user has bought an application.

Android Police found that it’s quite easy to circumvent Google’s verification, especially if the application’s code is not obfuscated. “Because the License Verification Library is not part of the Android OS, an app developer needs to package it with the app that uses it, making it an easier patch target, without requiring root access. (…) The method is so simple, even a novice programmer could write a script to automatically patch most apps.”

Google’s Tim Bray responded by saying that “the first release shipped with the simplest, most transparent imaginable sample implementation,” which didn’t focus on security. He recommends developers to obfuscate the code and to use other implementations. Tim Bray also says that “the best attack on pirates is to make their work more difficult and expensive, while simultaneously making the legal path to products straightforward, easy, and fast. Piracy is a bad business to be in when the user has a choice between easily purchasing the app and visiting an untrustworthy, black-market site.”

Tim Bray’s answer is ironic, if you think about it. Google’s Android Market lets you install paid applications only if you are in one of the 13 supported countries. The “legal path” is neither “straightforward, easy, or fast” if you don’t live in one of the 13 countries that are supported. Maybe instead of focusing on developing anti-piracy services, Google should add more locations to the paid Android Market.

Android Voice Actions

Google updated Android’s voice search application and added support for actions. In addition to searching the Web, you can now use the application to send text messages and email messages, find songs and start playing them, call your contacts and local businesses, launch Google Maps Navigation and get directions to a location, visit a site using Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature and more. It’s like iPhone’s voice control, except that there are more actions available and you need an Internet connection to use it.

“Voice Actions are a series of spoken commands that let you control your phone using your voice. To use Voice Actions, tap the microphone button on the Google search box on your home screen, or press down for a few seconds on the physical search button on your phone to activate the Speak Now screen,” explains Google.

Here are some examples of actions you can try after installing the app:
* go to Google News
* map of London
* call [name of one of your contacts]

For some reason, you can’t use the built-in app to play music, so you need to install Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio or mSpot before using actions like “listen to Morcheeba”. It would be nice to use voice actions to launch applications or to use custom actions defined by other applications.

The new version of the voice search application requires Android 2.2 (Froyo) and voice actions are limited to English (US). Search for [voice search] in the Android Market or use this QR code. If you’re not in the US, you want to try the application and you have root access to your phone, you might need to install Market Enabler and fake your location.

Google also released:

* a new version of the Gesture Search app for Android, which adds a motion gesture for starting the application
* a new version of the Google Search widget, with support for query refinements
* Chrome to Phone, which lets you send links and short texts from Google Chrome to a phone that runs Android Froyo. If you’ve previously installed the Chrome extension and the associated Android app, you should first uninstall them. There’s also a Firefox extension that offers similar features.

{ via Google Blog }

Send Links from Firefox to an Android Phone

Android 2.2 has a cool service for sending messages to phones: Android Cloud to Device Messaging. “The service provides a simple, lightweight mechanism that servers can use to tell mobile applications to contact the server directly, to fetch updated application or user data.”

A simple way to use this service is to send a link from your browser to an Android device. Chrome to Phone is a Chrome extension that makes this possible, assuming that you also install an Android application on your phone. The extension has been recently updated and you can use it to send links, phone numbers and text from web pages.

There’s also an unofficial Firefox extension called “Send to phone“, which offers similar features. The Firefox extensions adds an option to the contextual menu, so you don’t have to click on the toolbar button to send some text.

Some things you can try:
* send a Google Maps link and the Google Maps app from your phone should handle it
* send a link to a YouTube video and the video should start playing on your phone
* copy a phone number from a web page and send it to your phone
* copy a short text from a web page (<1KB) and send it to your phone’s clipboard.

Note that you need a device that uses Android 2.2 (Froyo), which is officially available for Nexus One, HTC Evo and HTC Desire. Motorola Droid will be updated to Froyo starting from next week, while other phones will be updated in the coming months.