Google Navigator

By Mielle Sullivan, Janus Networks

Google has released what promises to be fierce competition to older, more established devices in their Google Maps Navigation cellular app. Designed to work on their Android platform, the app connects through your cell network to deliver real time navigation, similar to a number of apps on the iPhone. The difference, though, is in the details.

With Google Navigation, your phone gets a lot more forgiving. For instance, you could type in “nearest Pete’s Coffee house” and Google will figure out that you meant “Peet’s Coffee & Tea”, then locate the nearest one and start giving turn by turn directions in real time. You could also type “Coffee Shop” and wind up at the nearest coffee shop known to Google. With Google Navigator search and interpretive technology, you can search by business name, address, place or just a type of business – like a coffee shop or towing company.

Another trick feature is the voice-response search. Since locations like “Guggenheim Museum” can be difficult, or even lethal, to type while driving, Google devised a better way: just ask your phone to navigate you to the Guggenheim. Pronunciation may still be an issue, but once you get that worked out the phone interprets your speech and searches for it–automatically bringing up the best result and navigating you to it. Since it is connected to the Internet through Google, you can even ask things like “Navigate to the Kandinsky exhibit” – even if you don’t know where that is exactly. Incidentally, the Kandinsky exhibit is at the Guggenheim, where you were already headed.

It also includes real time traffic data along your route in three colors, green yellow or red. With the push of a button, the application will find you an alternate route to avoid heavy traffic.

The app incorporates some of the signature features from Google Earth and Maps, like a satellite view and layered displays of ATMs, Banks, Restaurants, Gas Stations and Parking. The ability to see actual overhead photographic information of your route without altering the route display is a nice advantage for drivers over the TomTom or Garmin units. With available Google Streetview, you can read the actual signs you’ll be seeing in the next few miles and see what it all looks like at ground level.

Google is offering this application at the cost of your data package, that is to say, no additional cost.

Despite its advantages, Google Maps Navigation has limitations. While Internet connectivity and “smart” features like voice command, step by step directions and instant access to Google Streetview may seem to make Google Navigator far superior to traditional car based GPS navigation, it is unlikely that we will see Garmin and TomTom close up shop in the next few weeks. First of all, it will only work when you have a solid data connection. While the Verizon network is solid, it still won’t work everywhere. If you are touring Colorado on US 550, Google Navigator could leave you lost, while the GPS based Garmin will get you where you need to go.

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