As Nokia takes on Google with turn-by-turn voice navigation on select smartphones, the worst nightmares of GPS device makers are coming true.
Nokia and Google are both using free GPS applications as a lure to their products. That means they're competing, which means those free applications will get better. As that happens, it'll be harder for TomTom, Garmin and Magellan to make their paid software or hardware seem attractive.
Already, Nokia claims to have one-upped Google in the crucial area of pre-loaded maps. While Google Maps Navigation requires a data connection, Ovi Maps uses a combination of pre-loaded and online maps, but can load directions even in a dead zone. When it does need to load information, Nokia says it's more efficient than Google's application, requiring only 200 KB of data over a 12-mile stretch of road compared with 2 MB for an Android phone.
For the big GPS companies, preloaded maps are particularly troublesome. Being able to get directions without an Internet connection is one of the last advantages a dedicated GPS device has over smartphones. Nokia and Google have already duplicated voice navigation, and they already offer free directory listings and traffic, which aren't free on all GPS devices.
All that remains is for the other smartphone competitors to jump on the trend. Google has said “you'll have to speak to Apple about availability” of Google Voice Navigation, which makes me think Apple is developing a service of its own instead of ceding more of the iPhone to Google (Apple did buy a map company, Placebase, last year for reasons yet unknown). BlackBerry has a robust turn-by-turn GPS application for free, but no voice navigation. I'm not sure what's happening with Windows Mobile, but a Bing Maps Navigation is certainly plausible.
If free navigation apps become available on all major smartphones, GPS makers will only be able to pray that people hang on to their flip- and feature-phones forever.