Amid rising competition between Google’s Android mobile operating software and the iPhone, Google this morning is sending another shot Apple’s way. It’s debuting a free beta version of a new navigation service, a la TomTom’s or Garmin’s popular devices, that offers turn-by-turn, real-time navigation with Google Maps—but only on devices using its new Android 2.0 software.
In particular, that’s likely to be Verizon’s much-anticipated new Droid phone that was introduced this morning. Mobile expert Greg Sterling of Opus Research, who like me attended a pre-briefing yesterday at Google, notes that the service could give Verizon at least temporary bragging rights over the iPhone, advantages it has been touting in recent in-Steve-Jobs’-face ads on the Droid. “It’s going to be a strong competitive differentiator in the short term,” says Sterling, who’s impressed by the navigation service.
In fact, the service offers bells and whistles beyond those of dedicated navigation devices, such as integration with Google’s Street View, satellite imagery, and the ability to search destinations by name rather than address. For that reason, TomTom, Garmin, and the rest of the dedicated GPS navigation crew have even more reason to worry than Apple.
Google didn’t rule out offering the service on the iPhone and said it’s working with Apple but didn’t provide a time frame or any promise that a similar service for the iPhone would be forthcoming. Vic Gundotra, Google’s vice president of engineering for mobile and developer, said the software has “stringent” hardware requirements.
Anyway, here are the features of Maps Navigation, from Google’s press information site (Google’s blog post is also up now):
Google Maps Navigation (Beta) is an Internet-connected GPS navigation system that provides turn-by-turn voice guidance as a free feature of Google Maps on Android 2.0 phones.
Google Maps Navigation uses your phone's Internet connection to give you the latest maps and business data. You never need to buy map upgrades or manually update your device because you're always using the most recent data from Google Maps. And this data is continuously improving, thanks to users who report maps issues and local businesses on Google Local Business Center.
But that's not all that's different about Google's approach to GPS navigation. Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up as an Internet-connected GPS system, making the following features possible:
* Search in plain English. No need to know the address. You can type a business name (e.g. “starbucks”) or even a kind of a business (e.g. “thai restaurant”), just like you would on Google.
* Search by voice. Speak your destination instead of typing (English only): "Navigate to the de Young Museum in San Francisco".
* Traffic view. An on-screen indicator glows green, yellow, or red based on the current traffic conditions along your route. A single touch on the indicator toggles a traffic view that shows the traffic ahead.
* Search along route. Search for any kind of business along your route, or turn on popular layers such as gas stations, restaurants, or parking.
* Satellite view. View your route overlaid on 3D satellite views with Google's high-resolution aerial imagery.
* Street View. Visualize turns overlaid on Google's Street View imagery. Navigation automatically switches to Street View as you approach your destination.
* Car dock mode. For certain devices, placing your phone in a car dock activates a special mode that makes it easy to use your device at arm's length.