Today Google announced a major upgrade to its mobile Google Maps software with the introduction of Maps Navigation. Everything you’re used to with Google Maps is still there–search (by name of business), directions, traffic data, the three views (map, satellite, hybrid), etc. Maps Navigation brings full-blown turn-by-turn directions, including our friend the female robotic voice. New features included: address input by text or voice; text-to-speech (reads street names aloud); Street View (when you are making a turn or getting off a highway, an intelligent satillite view of the street will appear with directional arrows embedded on top); search along a route (it can point out and direct you to gas stations or resturants that fall on your route path); hold a finger down on any point of the virtual map and it will guide you there; layers (features like traffic and points of interest are “layers;” Gizmodo acknowledges that this may hint towards Google offering developers to create their own layers on top of the map (Wiki notes, etc.)); landscape and portrait modes. A docking station for car use was demoed. When a compatable phone is placed in the dock, an “arm’s length away” user interface takes effect (larger icons, etc.).
One of the most distinguising features of Maps Navigation as a navigation system is that it relies on the Internet to gets its information (maps, traffic, etc.) instead of actual satillites like most other navs. There are major advantages and some disadvantages to this. Gizmodo appropriately labels the single most important advantage “maps that never age.” In essense, you will never have to worry about updating your maps because the software is constantly updating itself via the carrier’s cell service. The disadvantage? If you happen to enter a dead zone and lose all cell service you might find yourself stuck in lost, unfamilar territory. However, it is worthy to note that the software sort of works offline in that it will cache (or save) your route once it is entered in a cell signal area. So if you happen to stumble upon a dead zone you may not SOL after all.
For now, Maps Navigation will only be available on Android 2.0 cell phones. The first cell phone to feature it will be Verizon’s Doid by Motorola. Eventually this upgraded version of Google Maps will make its way to other carriers and devices. In fact, Gizmodo reports that Google is in close talks with Apple about porting it to the iPhone.
One final, very significant point: Maps Navigation is f-r-e-e, that spells free. This is going to make a heavy impact not only on other cell phone nav applications that are not free, but it is definitely going to negatively affect major companies like TomTom and Garmin (it already has) who rely on people purchasing their standalone GPS units. If people have the choice of using a free (ad-free too, mind you) nav application on their cell phones or choosing to buy a separate typically expensive device, what do you they are going to choose? What would you choose? Share your opinion in the poll below.