Well, Google's done it again: Tossed a monkey wrench inside a well-oiled, profitable machine, and gummed it up good. Of course, I'm talking out the company's foray into the turn-by-turn GPS navigation market, a bold move that's bound to cause more than a few migraines at the headquarters of GPS kingpins Garmin and TomTom.
Google's map play could be bad news for the Apple iPhone, too, particularly if it convinces folks to buy one of the new Android 2.0 handsets that support the nav system. Why? Because Google Maps Navigation is free. And it's not a half-baked freebie either. As this demo video illustrates, the nav program is a useful tool that deftly blends Google's map and street views with traffic information and voice commands.
Not bad for a free app, wouldn't you say? Contrast that with the $100 price for either TomTom GPS software for the iPhone, or Navigon's Mobile Navigator North America. To many consumers, these apps will now seem wildly overpriced. GPS app vendors may have to cut their prices, offer ad-supported free versions (and I wonder if Google's nav app will ultimately take that route), or trot out amazing new features to warrant their high costs.
Google Maps Navigation could have a huge impact on the overall smartphone market as well. It may be the first killer app for Android, a must-have feature that lures consumers--particularly commuters seeking a smartphone with good nav features--away from the iPhone.
Of course, the iPhone has its fair share of advantages --100K apps come to mind -- and Apple has less to fear than the GPS vendors. It's no surprise that both TomTom's and Garmin's stock prices took a dive on the day of the Google announcement. The big bad wolf has entered the woods, and it's giving away free treats.