Let's face it, Google Maps' current offline functionality sucks. Even saving an area for offline viewing is a relatively hidden option that you either stumble upon by mistake once or that you have to actively remember how to get to when you need it. But Google seems intent on making offline maps better.
It doesn't look like they're changing the way saving offline maps work, which is a shame because it's difficult to find and there's no option to easily download a state or city, but they are adding more functionality that will be accessible when you're offline. During the I/O keynote yesterday, Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president of engineering at Google, announced that both search and turn-by-turn navigation will be possible if you don't have a data connection. Provided you've already saved the target area for offline viewing.
Demonstrating the feature on a phone switched to Airplane Mode, it was clear that search suggestions, business listings and details, and voice guided turn-by-turn navigation were all functional. Of course, you still have to have GPS switched on to talk to a satellite and get your location, but that doesn't require a network connection.
This is all part of Google's push to make its most crucial features offline-friendly, for travelers and the millions of people who live in countries with spotty and unreliable internet connections. We may still be a way off from seeing Google Maps challenge the extensive offline features of something like Here Maps for example, but it's getting there.