Game Changer! Google Unveils Free Map Navigation Service; Throws a Dagger in the Heart of SatNav Market

October 29, 2009 at 7:05 pm

(Source: Mashable & Guardian, UK)

Could the satnav (Satellite Navigation, for those not in know) – the saviour of many a long car journey – about to be consigned to the dustbin of history, alongside Betamax tapes and HD-DVDs?

After enjoying years of seemingly unassailable popularity with gadget fans and travelling salesmen, those little gadgets hanging on your vehicle’s Dashboards could become redundant excesses because of the threat from a new breed of mobile phones that feature the sort of mapping technology that wouldn’t look out of place on the most expensive TomTom. GoogleGoogle just released a beta version of Google Maps Navigation for AndroidAndroid 2.0. operating system, a new tool, based on Google’s existing road maps platform, that will provide turn-by-turn directions, automatic re-routing and 3D street-level views. In short, pretty much everything your satnav can do, but without the need to worry about an extra bit of kit when you load up the car.

The share prices of leading satnav manufacturers, such as TomTom and Garmin, nosedived on the news. Garmin’s share price dipped by 18 per cent, TomTom’s by 13 per cent – a huge hit, and a clear sign that the market is taking the threat posed by Google very seriously indeed.

Here’s a quick overview of the features:

  • Search in plain English – quickly search and navigate to places, businesses, landmarks
  • Search by voice
  • View of live traffic data over the Internet.
  • Search along route – find locations near your current path
  • Satellite view – you can view the same satellite imagery you’ve seen Google MapsGoogle Maps, on your phone
  • Street View – check out what the exact surroundings of a location look like
  • Car dock mode – when you place certain devices in a car dock, a special mode activates that enables easier operation

GPS turn-by-turn navigation has historically always been something you had to pay for. Creating and maintaining a map of the entire world, together with points of interests and traffic info, plus developing the algorithms that make sure you don’t take a wrong turn, costs millions of dollars. But Google is now offering it for free. The result was devastating for shares of GPS navigation companies: Garmin’s shares fell by 16.4%; TomTom’s by 20.8%. We’re talking billions of dollars of market capitalization, gone in one day, just because Google presented another free product (they release new products on a monthly, if not weekly basis).

It’s certainly an ambitious idea – the Google Maps Navigation tool will draw upon several areas of Google expertise, such as search and location-based services, to deliver clear views of the best routes, complete with finest restaurants, cosiest hotels and cheapest petrol stations along the way.

Live traffic information will be pushed directly to your Android phone, helping you to avoid jams. And users will be able to wave goodbye to the annual hassle of the satnav map update – the latest, most accurate maps will be sent to Android phones by Google over the mobile phone network, which means there won’t be any of the nasty surprises so common with stand-alone sat-navs, such as being directed down a newly designated one-wastreet.

Street View – real, street-level photography that shows the roads, buildings and landmarks around you – will also be an excellent feature, enabling you to quickly and easily pinpoint your location in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, and visualise the remainder of your route.

Guardian says “Converged devices, though, are undoubtedly the future, and the all-singing, all-dancing phones we’re starting to see growing in popularity are set to be the ultimate multitasking gadget, handling everything from social-networking to email, playing music or taking photos, and guiding us around town, be it on foot or in the car.

Google Maps Navigation may very well prove to be a satnav killer in time, but don’t throw out your TomTom just yet.

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