Nate Weiner

This is an old archived post from my former blog The Idea Shower. It's where I cataloged my product explorations and releases, one of which ultimately became Pocket.

This post was published back in 2009. It may not function as originally intended or may be missing images.

Invaluable Travel Tool: OffMaps - Offline Maps and GPS

August 28, 2009

photoDuring my trip to Japan, I used one of the most helpful iPhone applications I've downloaded yet.

Offmaps, in essence, is the iPhone's native Google Maps application, that's usable offline.  This means you can still use GPS on your phone to get around a foreign town without incurring insane international data roaming costs.

There were multiple occasions while walking around Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto that having the built in maps, gps, and compass on my phone were incredibly useful.

Again, the application is designed very similar to that of the native map application.  You are able to pan/zoom around the maps in the same way you would in Maps and the 'find me' button / compass view (on 3GS) works in the same manner.

Offmaps is very simple to use.  Before heading out of the country (or off of wifi), you drag a bounding box around the area/city you want to download, select the zoom max zoom level, wait for the maps to download and you're done!  The app itself sets no limits to the number of maps you can download but it is obviously limited to the disk space you have available on your phone.

There are a few quirks with using Offmaps that you should be aware of.

The first one isn't Offmaps fault, but if you are traveling abroad and do not have a data connection, you should know that it takes a very long time to get a GPS fix on the iPhone.  Normally, your phone uses the cell towers nearby to help find your location fairly quickly.  Without these, the phone has to rely strictly on the GPS satellites and this may take up to 10 minutes.  If your phone cannot find your position after the first try, just keep trying, eventually it'll find you.  If you are in need of quick help and have some data to spare, turn on your data roaming, locate yourself, and then switch the data roaming back off.

photo-2The other issue is the maps.  Offmaps does not use the same maps provided by Google in the native Maps app.  It uses open source maps from OpenStreetMap.  These maps are not as up to date nor as detailed as Google's.  This is understandable, but just be warned there may be some cases where you may not be able to discern where you are going just based on the map alone.  If you have some known locations ahead of time, I'd suggest dropping some pins and bookmarks on the maps to help you find your way when you are there.  Additionally, you might find it helpful to drop a pin when you get off the subway so you can find your way back.

The final issue was the search.  At the time of writing, it didn't seem that this worked offline.  I would imagine making the search work offline would be very difficult due to the amount of data it would require but when you try to search offline, it does not prompt any messages or take any action after hitting 'search'.  So quite frankly, I'm uncertain of what the developers intentions are there.  Because of the lack of search, I did have to switch to the normal maps app and use my data roaming in a few instances when I needed to find a specific restaurant or location.

Overall, this application is invaluable.  If you travel or have a limited data connection, you need to have this app, period.