Managing offline maps with F-Droid and OsmAnd

When disaster strikes, our mobile devices can provide us with many tools to deal with a wide variety of problems. The internet is not available in every corner of the planet, and large scale outages happen. Digital maps allow us to carry detailed maps of the entire planet in our pockets. And the good map apps allow the user to download entire regions to the device so that they operate without internet at all. Unfortunately, the big map apps from Google and Apple provide limited offline capabilities. For example, it is not possible to share offline data from one device to another. Online maps are also a major privacy leak, since location data is the most sensitive data. With online maps, the service operator sees each tile of the map that you look at, each time you look at it, as well as all the locations you search for.

OsmAnd is a great map app for offline usage, since offline usage is the primary mode of operation. It lets you download entire regions to your device, then search and navigate without any network connection at all. This is also a big win for privacy: In offline mode, OsmAnd can only see which regions you have downloaded, and nothing else. OsmAnd provides private, resilient services. The maps will work as long as your device is working. The maps are still usable even if GPS is unavailable, since they can be searched and operated with only your fingertips.

F-Droid is the most private and flexible mobile distribution system, so we recently worked to make it a lot easier to ship OsmAnd map files via F-Droid repos. That means that entire countries can be made available through the F-Droid distribution methods, including offline methods like mirrors on USB-OTG drives and local repos on a Raspberry Pi that provides the WiFi connection.

To see an example of this in action, try adding our new Wind Offline repo to F-Droid, and look for the “OsmAnd” category. The whole repo is managed by scripts, which is available on GitLab.

(This work was supported by the prize money from the Mozilla WINS competition as part of the Wind project.)