Bonnie Cha

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Google Maps Goes Offline, Adds More 3-D Imagery in Google Earth

Getting a jump on Apple’s near-certain announcement of its own mapping application, Google introduced the next dimension of Google Maps today.

In the coming weeks, the company will roll out three new features to its mapping solution: Improved 3-D models in Google Earth, offline maps and Street View Backpack.

Using automated technology to extract 3-D data from collected aerial images, the company has been able to improve 3-D imagery in Google Earth. Google offered a sneak peek of the new capability by showing off a map of San Francisco, complete with 3-D models of buildings and landmarks.

Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering at Google Maps, said Google owns and contracts a fleet of planes to collect the imagery and data exclusively for the company, and plans to bring 3-D coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people by the end of the year. In the coming weeks, Google will announce the first markets and roll out the feature to both Android and iOS apps.

Next, Google Maps for Android is going offline, meaning you no longer need a Wi-Fi or a cellular connection to view maps. Users will soon have the option to download map selections to their device, and will still have the ability to view street-level maps even without a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. The feature is coming soon exclusively to Google Maps for Android.

When asked why iOS was not included, McClendon said, “We’re working hard to get it on all platforms. It’s just an issue of when that’s going to happen.”

Finally, Google will take Street View off-road with the new Street View Trekker. Luc Vincent, engineering director of Google Street View, showed off a backpack equipped with cameras and other tech that will allow the company to photograph and map areas such as national parks on foot.

The event ended with a Q&A session that was dominated by Google dancing around questions about Apple’s plans to ditch Google Maps in favor of its own mapping solution. “We will continue to make Google Maps imagery available as widely as possible,” said McClendon. “We want our services on all platforms.”

Google Maps has been the default mapping app for iPhones since 2007, but current and former Apple employees tell The Wall Street Journal that the company has been working for years on plans to replace it. Apple acquired three mapping companies, Placebase, Poly9 and C3 Technologies, between 2009 and 2011.

The reason behind the move looks to be twofold: Increased ad revenue, and to further differentiate itself from Android and other mobile platforms and lure new customers and developers.

Now the question is what Apple’s mapping solution will look like. Photo-realistic 3-D maps are a possibility, but whatever it might be, sources tell AllThingsD that it will “blow your head off.”

It’s believed that Apple will reveal its new mapping technology at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which begins June 11 in San Francisco.

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