Google brings free turn-by-turn satnav to UK

Google has brought its free turn-by-turn software to the UK.

Google brings free turn-by-turn satnav to UK

The update to Google Maps is being made available today as a free download for any smartphone running Android 1.6 or above. Google confirmed at a London press conference that it plans to bring the free satnav to other smartphone platforms, potentially including the iPhone, although it wouldn’t confirm when.

Unlike rivals such as TomTom or CoPilot’s smartphone software, Google’s satnav software doesn’t store maps on the device but downloads them on-demand from the cloud. That means users will need to have an active data connection when planning routes.

“Google Maps pre-caches the entire route,” said Mobile Maps product manager, Steve Lee. “It needs a data connection when you ask for navigation. But while driving to your destination, if you intermittently lose the connection, it will still carry on. As long as you stay on the route.”

The service has been localised for the UK: distances are stated in miles instead of kilometers, and the audio instructions are delivered in an English accent.

The Google satnav also benefits from voice recognition, with the software able to understand plain English commands such as “drive to 12 London Road” or “find nearest Starbucks”. Lee demonstrated advanced voice recognition commands such as “navigate to museum with Rosetta Stone”, which brought up a listing for the British Museum in the search results.

The satnav is available in several different views, including maps, satellite and Google Street View photography. Users can opt to see a Street View photo of the next junction, and a Street View image automatically appears when you near your destination so drivers can see exactly what their location looks like.

Google offers live traffic data, although the software isn’t yet capable of dynamically diverting drivers around traffic jams – a staple feature of dedicated satnav devices. However, Google’s software will automatically plot alternative routes on request, which estimates traffic-adjusted journey times.

Dedicated car docks will be available for handsets such as the Google Nexus One and HTC Desire.

Squashing the competition?

The launch of Google’s satnav will doubtless be a blow to commercial providers such as TomTom and Garmin. However, Google claims the satnav makers had become complacent.

“Google prides itself on innovating in markets that have been stagnant for a while,” said Hugo Barra, director of mobile products at Google. “I think navigation is a good example. We think there will be a lot more [innovation] happening as a result [of Google’s launch]. It will be good for users.”

Google said it will also bring the free satnav to rival smartphone platforms. “We’re absolutely evaluating other platforms,” said Lee. “Maps for Mobile has the most breadth [of any Google service]. It runs on Symbian, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and Android. For navigation, it requires a lot more [hardware] capability.

We use OpenGL for some of the graphics. We started off with Android, because it has those capabilities, but we absolutely want to bring it to other platforms.”

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