Google Launches Free GPS for Android 2.0 Smartphones

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-28

If you're an Android smartphone user, or have designs on getting one, it may be soon time to take your Garmin GPS device out of the car.

Google Oct. 28 launched to beta Google Maps Navigation, a Web-based GPS navigation system that provides voice guidance as a free feature of Google Maps on Android 2.0 phones sold in the United States.

The GPS relies on users' Android smartphone Internet connection to provide maps and directions of local businesses and points of interest. This means users don't need to buy or use a separate navigation device from Garmin or other GPS manufacturers, Google claims.

Apple already offers similar GPS capabilities on its iPhone 3GS maps applications, which leverages Google Maps data. However, Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering at Google, said Google is working to build a version of Google Maps Navigation for the iPhone.

Google Maps Navigation lets users conduct typed and voice searches to find places along their route without knowing the exact address. Users can also type a business name and see a local list and directions to that business. Route searches include layers, helping users sniff out gas stations, restaurants or parking.

A traffic view in Google Maps Navigation features an on-screen indicator that glows green, yellow, or red based on the current traffic conditions along a route. Users can also see the traffic ahead with a single tap on the indicator.

Street View in this app lets users visualize turns on top of Street View images. In fact, navigation automatically switches to Street View as users get close to their destination. The Satellite view also overlays 3D satellite views with Google Earth aerial imagery.

See screenshots of the GPS features on the Google Watch blog here and more on eWEEK here.

Google Maps Navigation also works with car dock mode. This means that placing certain Android 2.0 smartphones in a car dock will activate a special mode that makes it easy to use the device at arm's length.

There is one small problem for Android phone users who want to use this GPS. While the Android 2.0 SDK was formally unveiled to the public yesterday, there are no Android 2.0 smartphones on the market yet.

The Motorola Droid will run Android 2.0, and hence the Google Maps Navigation feature. Motorola confirmed today the Droid will arrive from Verizon Wireless Nov. 6.

The phone is receiving a lot of hype, sparking a lot of hope that programmers will be able to write hot applications for a winning mobile platform that isn't Apple's iPhone.

Google hopes the GPS feature will help forthcoming Android phones better compete with the Apple iPhone, which along with the iPod Touch has sold more than 57 million units.

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