Nokia Maps plus HTML5 equals offline mobile maps

The mobile web version of Nokia Maps (s nok) now looks and behaves more like a standard native application on Google Android (s goog) and Apple iOS (s appl) devices, thanks to HTML5: The navigation service now provides offline downloading of maps. This ability can reduce mobile broadband data charges or allow map usage in areas that have limited or no wireless data service.

Enthusiast siteĀ Android Community noted the updates on Monday by way of the HandHeld Blog. In addition to the downloadable maps, the service — found atĀ — also adds public transit directions to supplement the existing walking and driving navigation as well as points of interest (POI) and guides to the local area.

Nokia’s mapping service is arguably one of the best software products to come from the Finland-based handset maker, and this update makes it even better. Why else would Microsoft (s msft) decide to integrate Nokia Maps in the Windows Phone platform going forward? I used the web version of Nokia Maps earlier on Monday, finding it to be so full-featured that it was almost difficult to believe it to be a web application.

The offline mapping mode is welcome, especially when many smartphone owners pay for set amounts of wireless data. Google, too, recently introduced downloadable maps, partially for this reason. Nokia’s implementation is somewhat limiting, though, at least in my short tests. The initial geographic area I wanted to map was too large, so Nokia Maps wouldn’t save it. I had to keep zooming and cropping before saving.

The end result was a reasonable size — about 15 square blocks of Philadelphia — and I had to boost the storage limits allocated to the service to get the 19 MB area map downloaded. Nokia calls these “neighborhood maps,” so if you’re planning to visit several areas, each neighborhood will have to be downloaded separately. That differs from Google’s solution, where I was able to grab a map of 10 square miles. Once you have a local map from Nokia stored on the device, you don’t have access to the guides and POIs, but you can zoom in for greater detail, just like Google’s version.