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Google Maps goes offline, complete with turn-by-turn directions

The service previously required users to be connected to the Web in order to take advantage of its features. That's changing "later this year."

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Google Maps, the venerable mapping service from the world's largest search company, will soon work both online and off.

Google Maps' offline support will be launching "later this year," Google announced during its keynote address at its I/O developer confab on Thursday. The feature will allow users to download maps to their devices and get the full Google Maps experience, including turn-by-turn voice directions even when they're away from an Internet connection.

The offline push is a major departure for Google Maps, which has over 1 billion users. Since its launch in 2005, users needed to have a Web connection to use its features, which include mapping and directions, among others. Adding offline support makes the service far more useful in areas around the world where Web connections are unavailable or slow.

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Google Maps is going offline later this year. James Martin/CNET

Google's annual conference for software developers, I/O, is one of the biggest for Google, as the company shares the latest developments in its world-leading Android mobile operating system. Google also uses the stage to talk up its wearable platform Android Wear, its in-car infotainment service Android Auto, and other services.

Google I/O is being held in San Francisco on Thursday and Friday.

Adding offline support to Maps gives Google the opportunity to keep pace with some of its competitors, including Nokia Here. That platform, which is wildly popular in the car business and is running on mobile platforms, including Android, offers offline support for mapping in over 100 countries.

When users download a Google map to their device, they'll find that searching in Google Maps still provides suggestions. In addition, users will see a location's reviews, if it has them. Basic information, like hours and website information, are also supported in the app.

Google didn't say how many countries will be supported in its offline Google Maps, but the company said that it wants users to be able to "explore the world literally wherever they are."