Google Maps app for Android adds indoor floorplans

Users get access to internal maps of retail stores, malls, airports and other large venues

Disoriented at Minneapolis' Mall of America? Confused at Tokyo's Narita airport? Can't find the bathrooms at your local Ikea store? The Google Maps application for Android phones and tablets may offer some help.

The latest version of the application, released on Tuesday, now features floorplans of some large venues, a modest start to what Google hopes will eventually be a comprehensive collection of internal maps of large retail stores, malls, airports, transit stations and the like globally.

"This opens a new mapping frontier for mobile users: indoor public spaces," said Steve Lee, a Google director of product management.

Google Maps 6.0 for Android will also display with a blue dot the location of the user within the venue's floor plan, and will update the location as the person moves. The application will even refresh the map when users move to different floors within a building.

Maps will contain labels with store names, bathroom locations, ATM icons and airport gates, among other items. Google collaborated with the owners of the mapped venues in this first iteration of indoor maps. However, Google is making available a tool that any venue owner can use to upload floorplans for inclusion in the application's database at http://maps.google.com/floorplans.

The files don't have to be submitted in any specific format, according to Lee. Google will take blueprints, CAD drawings and even snapshots of floorplans. Obviously, the more detailed the floorplan, the better. It's free to upload floorplans for the application. The upload tool at launch will be in beta, or test, mode, so users may experience some "wrinkles" with it at first, Lee said.

The indoor maps feature doesn't broadcast offers or coupons from stores in the venues. The application also doesn't display any ads.

In tests, Google hasn't found dropped cellular signals inside buildings to be a significant problem, but the application has an existing feature that lets it cache and store maps locally on devices for when they're disconnected from the Internet, he said.

Google Maps 6.0 for Android will work on devices with version 2.1 and higher of the mobile operating system. At launch, the application includes floorplans for Tokyo's Narita and 17 U.S. airports, including Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and George Bush Houston International Airport; stores of the retail chains Macy's, Bloomingdales, Home Depot and Ikea; and malls including Mall of America, Times Square Mall in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and Liberty Fair Mall in Martinsville, Virginia.

Juan Carlos Perez covers search, social media, online advertising, e-commerce, web application development, enterprise cloud collaboration suites and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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