Map Wars Begin: Google Introduces GPS App for Android, More to Enter Fray

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Google today introduced a beta of their navigation app for the Android 2.0 powered Motorola Droid. The application is an extension of its for Android but it has a lot of the qualities of personal navigation software products from TomTom, Navigon and Garmin.

Google's offering is in the cloud, which has a lot of benefits which it mentions in the video above including:

  • Search in plain English (watch video). No need to know the address. You can type a business name or even a kind of a business, just like you would on Google.
  • Search by voice (watch video). Speak your destination instead of typing (English only): "Navigate to the de Young Museum in San Francisco".
  • Traffic view (watch video). An on-screen indicator glows green, yellow, or red based on the current traffic conditions along your route. A single touch toggles a traffic view which shows the traffic ahead of you.
  • Search along route (watch video). Search for any kind of business along your route, or turn on popular layers such as gas stations, restaurants, or parking.
  • Satellite view (watch video). View your route overlaid on 3D satellite views with Google's high-resolution aerial imagery.
  • Street View (watch video). Visualize turns overlaid on Google's Street View imagery. Navigation automatically switches to Street View as you approach your destination.
  • Car dock mode (watch video). 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.

But, it also has one obvious monster drawback. When the network is out, the app is useless.

As someone who uses AT&T's network and tries to get by with Google Maps on the iPhone, I can tell you that more often than not, I can't get a signal on the road.

And the points which you can't get a signal are the times when you need the GPS the most. My AT&T signal is almost always non-existant along backroads in unpopulated areas (though I can't get an AT&T signal anywhere near my home 15 miles from New York City). That's why fully downloadable maps navigation applications like TomTom still are pretty useful - at least on AT&T/iPhone.

Now, Verizon's network might be a different story. We've all seen the commercials that show their coverage being many times better than AT&T's. Maybe their network could yield a more positive experience with this type of application that AT&T's.

It is interesting to note that Google plans on bringing their mapping technology to other GPS platforms including the iPhone (if Apple let them). Perhaps stand alone TomToms and Garmins will soon have google functionality built in.

Oh and for you international readers, Droid is also a GSM platform and should be showing up globally very soon.

Adsense geolocation advertisements will undoubtedly start appearing in this navigation at some point, making it a money-maker for Google. But in the meantime, Google's Navigation looks to differentiate the Droid from other smartphones out there, most notably, the iPhone.

This story, "Map Wars Begin: Google Introduces GPS App for Android, More to Enter Fray" was originally published by Computerworld.

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