By: Hillel Fuld
The tech world has been non stop talking about Motorola’s new Droid device. There is no doubt it is an exciting new development in the smartphone arena, and it will definitely raise the bar for the future of the mobile space. If I had to choose one feature of the Droid that is making the most amount of noise, it would have to be Google’s new turn by turn GPS app available for Android 2.0 devices.
Now, before I get into this, let there be no mistake about it, this new app by Google has and will continue to turn the GPS industry on its head. All the big GPS companies are watching their stocks take a nose dive, and Google has managed to set the future standard for GPS and possibly put the whole market for standalone GPS units out of business. To just name a few reasons people are so excited about this new app, for starters it’s free. GPS apps have traditionally been the most expensive type of apps, and now Google is offering one that can compete with the best of em, and it is free.
Additionally, the app enables you to search for a location even if you do not know the address, basically, you can search for a location in the same way you would search for it in Google itself. You can say “Starbucks near Central park” and the app will find one for you. The app also enables you to search by voice while driving, something that will reduce the danger of playing with an in car device. You can also enjoy a Traffic View, which notifies you of traffic on your route, in real time. Lastly, one of the coolest features in my opinion is the Street View functionality. Basically, imagine you are arriving at your destination, but are not exactly sure which building it is, the app shows you the actual street view of the location, pretty sweet.
Now that we have established that Google’s new GPS has enough reasons to give GPS manufacturers reason to worry, I thought I would mention some things that this new Google app does not have and should. These features exist in other similar applications, so there is no reason Google should not be implementing them in their GPS offering.
- A Social Layer: If there is any company that appreciates the importance of community, it is Google. I cannot think of any reason users should not be able to upload information about their journey and update other users in real time. I am imagining a world in which I come across construction on the way to work, update my Google GPS on the Droid sent to me by Google for review (sorry, just had to throw that in there), and thereby prevent my fellow drivers from taking my route. This could work for car accidents I encounter on the roads, problems with the actual roads, such as a pot hole, maybe even police traps, and much more. In today’s day and age when the world is so obsessed with social networks and online communication, Google has to add the ability to include user generated updates about the roads. Other companies are doing it, no reason Google can’t.
- Offline Navigation: This is a tricky point, since some might claim that the fact that Google’s GPS app is online, is actually an advantage over GPS systems that have the maps stored locally. Well, in my opinion, they would be right and wrong. On the one hand, the fact that it is online and integrates Google Maps with its 50 million users offers an advantage of updated and real time information. On the flip side, I am thinking about my data bills. Yes, some of the other apps might cost money, but I am essentially paying for the maps, which are stored on the device itself. Here, I am getting the app for free, but it is eating away at my data plan. So, in my opinion, Google should do the smart thing and offer two different packages, one for people who want to download maps and use the app in offline mode, and another for people who have unlimited data and want to use the app in online mode. Does that make sense?
- Independence: The new Google App is only available on the Droid phone. It will probably be available on other devices that come with Android 2.0, and maybe even the iPhone eventually, but that is it. It will not cater to the same crowd that traditionally uses standalone GPS devices. My parents will never use the Google GPS system. In order for this app to be a complete success, it has to have its independence, that is independence of Android, independence of iPhone, independence of phones all together. If its so called simplicity is offered to consumers who do not use smartphones, then we would have a complete market killer on our hands. Right now, it is a cool product that will be used by geeks exclusively.
- Convenience: This is really a continuation of the last bullet, but since the Google app is not available as a standalone service, you are stuck using a 3.7′ screen for your GPS needs. That will not work for some, when standalone systems come in 5′ displays and even larger. Additionally, there is something to be said about having your phone available to you even when using GPS. Whether it is talking on the phone (with an ear piece of course), not having to worry about cellular coverage, or not eating up your phone’s battery, a standalone GPS system still offers some advantages to the average consumer.
- Augmented Reality: This might be a long shot, but if anyone could do it, Google can. With this new trend of apps that offer you real time data displayed on your screen, I can’t help but think how amazing that would be as part of a GPS app. The ability to view all the restaurants or businesses at a certain location, with the data about the vendor appearing on your phone’s display, can really put this new app over the top. Again, I am not a programmer or developer, so I have no clue if this is possible, but a man can dream, right?
In conclusion, there is no debating that the hype surrounding Google’s new GPS app is justified. However, just like the Droid itself is not going to be the last say in the smartphone market, Google’s GPS will not mean the end of standalone GPS devices.