Android Mobile Navigation App Scouts Traffic in Car
MobileNavigator for the Android from Navigon turns an Android smartphone
into a mobile navigation device that uses GPS,
map and traffic data to provide route and time to destination along with some
innovative street view displays. MobileNavigator is also available for the
MobileNavigator Android became available on October 27 in the Android Marketplace and costs $59.99.
I tested MobileNavigator on a Samsung Vibrant running Android 2.1 update 1 on the T-Mobile network. The navigation app provides a plethora of directional aids, including pedestrian mode with Reality View Pro, which overlays points of interest on the camera display. Driving features include Lane Assistant Pro, which offers instructions on lane changes and automatic switching between day and night mode to dim the display and darken maps at night to reduce contrast.
As a mobile navigation app, Navigon worked fine. When combined with any text-to-speech app, Navigon can say directions, including street names. The driving directions provided by Navigon were in line with routes I would have taken myself when I navigated between familiar destinations. MobileNavigator has good integration with phone contacts. It stores recent destinations and provides adequate space for favorite destinations, which helps to speed up navigation input. In these conventional ways, MobileNavigator is similar to some paid apps, such as TeleNav GPS Navigator, or even no-cost apps, such as Navigator.
Where MobileNavigator stands out is in the creative use of smartphone hardware features, including the camera to provide Reality View Pro and time information to switch to night mode. To activate Reality View, I first had to put MobileNavigator into pedestrian mode. Commonsense safety dictates that Reality View isn't available in driving mode, since drivers should have their eyes focused on the road and mirrors, not on the tiny display of a mobile phone. In Reality View, the phone's camera is turned on in video mode by orienting the camera as if to take a picture. Business names and icons for ATMs, fast-food joints, gas stations and other points of interest were then overlaid onto the video image along with approximate distance information.
Reality View is still a cool feature, but not necessarily the best way to solve close-proximity navigation. Google Maps probably still has the best solution, which is to provide information bubbles on the map screen along with the option to see the street address of the destination. When I used Reality View on busy Second Street in front of our downtown office, I universally got glowering stares as passersby assumed I was taking a video of them. Within five minutes--just about the time I got a fairly accurate read on Henry's Party Market--I got my first challenging comment from another pedestrian. Once I showed them Reality View the situation lightened up, but I see formidable social barriers to this feature.
Although MobileNavigator is fairly easy to figure out there is no user manual, and that is a barrier to effective use of the product. For example, I discovered pedestrian mode by accident while rooting around in a third-level menu. By the same token, I figured out Realty View by a complete fluke while moving the phone around to test GPS signal reception. A manual in the next version is required to make this app truly usable.