The free Google Maps Navigation feature for Google Maps is now available for smartphones running the Android 1.6 operating system build and higher, the search engine said Nov. 23.
Google Maps Navigation is a Web-based GPS navigation system that provides turn-by-turn voice directions and automatic rerouting for U.S. users. Users can speak or type their destination and receive directions along with fresh map, business, and traffic data, as well as satellite and Street View imagery along their route.
When Google launched this feature to beta Oct. 28, it shocked the GPS world for being a disruption to existing GPS devices from TomTom and Garmin and annoyed Android phone users because it was initially launched to smartphones created with Android 2.0.
Verizon Wireless later that day announced it would begin selling the Android 2.0-based Motorola Droid for $199 and touted Google Maps Navigation as differentiator from Apple's iPhone and other rival smartphones. See screenshots of Google Maps Navigation in action here.
Still, users of the first to U.S.-launched Android devices -- the T-Mobile myTouch 3G and inaugural but clunky G1 gadget -- were peeved because the feature wasn't available to them. Now it is, with some things added and some things missing from Google Maps Navigation launched for 2.0 devices.
This release includes Google's new Layers feature, which lets users overlay geographical information, such as transit lines, Wikipedia articles about places, and more on the map. However, users cannot use the "navigate to" voice command. Google Product Manager Michael Siliski added:
""You can still create a shortcut that will allow you to launch Navigation and start getting directions to a specific place from your current location with just a single touch from your home screen. For example, you can create a "Home" shortcut to quickly navigate home, no matter where you are. Just use the "Add" menu item from the home screen, then choose "Shortcuts", then "Directions.""
Users who have a phone running Android 1.6 can download an updated version of Google Maps from Android Market to use the GPS feature. Read more about the liberation of this feature for Android 1.6 devices on TechMeme here.
The Android operating system has entered a period of highs and lows. The Motorola Droid was rumored to have sold some 250,000 units when it launched earlier this month.
That success comes against the backdrop of rumors of an integrated Google phone based on Android and concerns that the development platform is fragmenting from too many devices and custom software builds.
Meanwhile, AdMob, the mobile display ad company Google is buying for $750 million, said Android is doing well.
The Motorola Droid through Nov. 18 represented 24 percent of the traffic in AdMob's Android network, with the Android-based Motorola Cliq generating 6 percent of Android requests. The HTC Dream led with 36 percent of the traffic.