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No Wi-Fi? No problem for Google Maps, which just introduced offline search

You’re never “conveniently lost.” Or at least, I’m never conveniently lost. Anytime I find myself completely unsure of my whereabouts, I also find that I’m without a map, without a friend, or worst of all, without Wi-Fi or 4G/LTE service, rendering even my trusty Google Maps app useless. But now, for the directionally challenged, none of that matters anymore. Google just introduced offline navigation and search, and it may be the best thing since sliced bread.

“Roughly 60 percent of the world is without Internet today, and even where online access is available, it can still be spotty,” Google notes in its official blog. So in an effort to introduce a solution, “Now you can download an area of the world to your phone, and the next time you find there’s no connectivity — whether it’s a country road or an underground parking garage — Google Maps will continue to work seamlessly,” writes Amanda Bishop, a Google product manager.

While you’ve been able to save portions of Google Maps since 2012, the tech giant has never before indexed these results for search and navigation. But as of today, that’s all changed — “now you can get turn-by-turn driving directions, search for specific destinations, and find useful information about places, like hours of operation, contact information or ratings.”

To take advantage of this new functionality, you’ll need to download part of a map by searching for a city, county, or even country, says Google. Then, you can hit “Download,” or tap the “+” button in the “Offline Area” tab of Google Maps. Once you have your map handy, Bishop writes, “Google Maps will move into offline mode automatically when it recognizes you’re in a location with spotty service or no connectivity at all.” Pretty snazzy.

But don’t worry — if you do have service available, Google Maps will revert to its full version, so you can actually see things like live traffic conditions, transit, and walking conditions (which may also soon be available in offline mode).

RelatedGoogle Maps adds spoken traffic alerts on iOS

Of course, despite the great convenience that this new feature may offer, some critics have pointed out that the huge amount of data needed to both download and store large maps may offset whatever benefits offline mode offers. “Entry-level Android smartphones sometimes only have four gigabytes of onboard storage, making it a precious resource,” Ben Wood from CCS Insight told the BBC. “So some users may find using map downloads limits what else they can do with their device — but to be honest that’s one small negative in a sea of positives about this update.”

Google is optimistic about how offline mode will enhance their users’ ability to navigate unfamiliar place. “We think it’ll dramatically improve your experience,” Bishop told TechCrunch. And for those who’ve tried out the service, they’re certainly in agreement.