Every platform needs a killer app and for the Android OS the early contender for that title has to be the just announced Google Maps Navigation for mobile. Only available for Android 2.0 phones, the new application takes the current Google Maps for mobile and gives it a hefty shot of steroids. Most of the new features that set the app apart from most in-car turn-by-turn navigation systems come courtesy of its Internet connectivity, which makes it possible to access a wealth of relevant information residing on Google’s servers while out and about.
Even though Google Maps Navigation is only in Beta, it already impresses with a range of features that could see drivers relegating dedicated GPS devices to the glove box permanently in favor of an Android powered phone. Here’s a summary of the main features:
- Up to date map, traffic and business data: Since Google Maps Navigation relies on the constantly updated information stored on Google’s servers, map and business listing will always be as up to date as possible without the need to buy map upgrades. Pulling map information from the Internet means mobile phone service is a must when starting out, but since maps cache along the intended route the application will still work if you get disconnected along the way. Internet connectivity also means live traffic data can be displayed. A traffic indicator light in the corner of the screen glows green, yellow or red, depending on the traffic conditions along the chosen route. Tapping the light will zoom out to an aerial view to show traffic speeds and incidents ahead, allowing users to choose an alternate route if traffic doesn’t look good.
- Search in plain English: By using the power of Google search users can find their destination even if they don’t know the exact address. Searches can be typed in or, with typing on a phone being a chore at the best of times, and downright dangerous while driving, spoken after holding down the search button to activate voice search. Entering the name of a business, a landmark or just about anything into the search box will provide a list of suggestions. Select the correct one and click “Navigate”, and you’ll be on your way.
- Search along route: Once you’re on your way Google Maps Navigation allows you to search for specific businesses by name or type that aren’t far from your path or use layers to display popular destinations like petrol stations, restaurants, or parking.
- A choice of views: Google Maps Navigation uses the same satellite imagery and Street View made famous by Google Maps. But it’s much more than a gimmick. Using satellite and Street View imagery overlaid with the route helps drivers make sense of a complicated maneuver or let them know what to look out for at an easy to miss turn or tricky address.
- Competitive pricing: Probably the single biggest factor that will ensure Google Maps Navigation’s popularity is its price – nothing. When you take into account that for free it offers features not available and simply not possible from non-Internet connected units from dedicated GPS companies that charge annual fees, you begin to wonder how anyone can compete with Google’s offering - which is still in beta. Seems Google has put the ball in its competitors’ court, and they have a bit of catch up to do.
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