Google Maps Navigation finally landed on Android phones here in the UK this week. And with it a whole heap of speculation about whether it would be making its way from Google’s now-stellar smartphone line up onto other, non-Google, devices. One Google exec has said that it’s “evaluating” spreading the love to other platforms in the future, meaning even the iPhone could one day be blessed with Google’s gratis navigation app.
And it’s the fact that it’s free that really does set Google Maps Navigation apart. This isn’t a pared-down personal navigation device. This is a full-on service with proper turn-by-turn navigation and search-by-voice functionality. The latter is particularly clever: bark out your destination and your phone will work out the route stat. And of course, the ace Street View is baked right in, edging out competitors in a flash.
But it’s what it means for paid-for apps that’s really interesting. Why would you drop sixty quid on the UK and Ireland version of the TomTom iPhone app, only to find out that if you’d got an Android phone an equal service was available for nothing? There’s no doubting Google Maps Navigation has hit TomTom hard. Its stock plummeted when Google announced its plans and revealed Maps Navigation as part of Android 2.0 at the end of 2009 and it, along with rival PND manufacturers, is scrabbling for a reply.
Of course, Nokia Ovi Maps already offers a similar service for free. But because Android phones are at the bleeding edge of mobile technology and Google is currently cresting a wave of tech popularity, Google Maps Navigation is undoubtedly a bigger deal. In fact, it finally makes proper satnav on a phone a mainstream reality. It’s convergence completely realised and it doesn’t cost any more than your monthly mobile contract fee.
The key now is for Google to get Maps Navigation onto other platforms. There’s no doubting it looks the part on a wide array of Android phones, especially the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, with its epic 4-inch screen affording it a more satnav-like feel. But it will truly revolutionise satnav apps when it arrives on the likes of the iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. Obviously that’s going to take a hell of a lot of bargaining, with the smartphone rivalry between these top players never as tense as it is now.
But that’s for the future. Right now, the arrival of Google Maps Navigation simply adds even more credence to the fact that Android is sweeping all before it in terms of sheer power and usability. It also means that we’re finally seeing convergence take its next logical step. It’s hard not to envisage a time in the not-too-distant future when dedicated satnavs are a thing of the past, with Google Maps Navigation leading the way in bringing free mapping to the masses.
If the Big G can push this feature as hard as it’s been pushing its Chrome browser, expect to see take up of Android devices surge. Who wants to stump up when they can get something this good for free?