Offline Maps

Offline Maps

What Problem Does This Solve?

User needs access to data in areas where internet is slow, mobile data is expensive, or user cannot get online.

When to Use This Pattern

Offline Maps is a great method for providing a means of navigation and getting driving directions while offline or in a foreign country. Limitations of that approach include that live data feeds like traffic information, transit updates or alternative route suggestions will not be available.

What’s the Solution?

Provide a mechanism that allows users to download the map data of a specific region before encountering access limitations. Typical workflows include searching for a place or browsing to an extent and selecting to download for offline use.

Once an area is downloaded and the device identifies slow or absent internet connection in that area, the app will use the local version instead of consuming from a live stream.

Storage space and download size are important constraints to keep in mind when designing Offline Map experiences. Provide feedback on the anticipated package size before downloading it and offer alternatives to reduce its volume by selecting a smaller area (only Manhattan and not New York city) or less detail (omit layers). Ideally the application guides users through this process without exposing the complete set of available layers. Specialized application may consider offering predetermined map packages that are available for download.

Provide a means to see downloaded maps, update older or outdated downloads, and remove them from the device completely.

Why Use This Pattern?

Offline Maps, sometimes also referred to as Offline Areas, is most useful on mobile devices that are being carried to an area with data serving limitations like slow, limited, or expensive internet connections. Being able to download map content to a mobile device while on a fast and reliable internet connection saves not only time and money but also ensures that the content is available before travelling to an area with underserved or unreliable data connections.

Special Considerations

Probably the biggest consideration in any offline map download is the level of detail to include. Try the best to inform users of the expected size upfront and to optimize map packages. Adjusting granularity of the included data can be another method to reduce its size with the downside that relevant information may be missing. Asking the user which data to include is another option to handle this situation.

Consider informing the user when

  • important updates have been made to already downloaded maps so that data doesn’t get stale.
  • the application is using offline data and for instance traffic data is temporarily or permanently unavailable, e.g. because user has switched to “airplane mode”


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