Navigation coming to Google Maps in SA

Google will from today begin offering navigation support for the SA version of Google Maps. Google Maps Navigation (beta) will be available on phones running Android 1.6 or higher.

There’s no word yet on when it will come to other smartphone platforms.

Though Google Maps has been available in SA for a number of years, until now the company’s free, turn-by-turn voice navigation service was not offered in the region. One of the advantages of Google Maps Navigation over traditional GPS units is it integrates fully with mobile phones, so users can click an address in their contacts list, calendar or on a website and get immediate directions.

It is also possible to pick a destination from the map itself, rather than having to enter an address or point of interest, and Google Maps Navigation integrates Google’s recently rolled-out voice search, allowing users to enter addresses by voice.

Other benefits of Google Maps Navigation are the speed at which it can calculate alternative routes or reroute users should they make an incorrect turn or have to avoid unexpected road closures.

Google Maps Navigation updates seamlessly and doesn’t require entire map updates like conventional stand-alone GPS units. Rather, maps are updated automatically and always use the most recent data from Google Maps.

“Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up as an Internet-based GPS system, making certain features possible, such as being able to use Google Street View on your mobile,” says Brett St Clair, head of mobile for Google SA.

“Users can visualise directions turn by turn, overlaid on Street View imagery, and Navigation automatically switches to Street View as a destination is approached. South Africans can also now speak their destinations into their phones using voice search.” The voice search functionality for SA includes support for searches in isiZulu and Afrikaans.

Travellers can also see their routes overlaid on 3D satellite views with Google’s aerial imagery. There is no need for users to know an address – they can simply type in a business name or even a kind of business just as they would on Google. They can also search for any kind of business as they travel on a specific route or turn on layers such as petrol stations, restaurants or parking.

Julie Taylor, head of communications and public affairs for Google SA, says navigation will come to non-Android devices, but she can’t commit to a timframe.

Taylor says that the service also offers a degree of offline functionality. “If you lose you connection, it’s not a problem. Navigation will cache info for areas you’re in often and for your current route, so even if it takes some time to reconnect you won’t lose functionality.”

In terms of the public transport routes, traffic information and other overlays available for Google Maps Navigation in other regions, Taylor says that Google hopes to provide this sort of functionality for SA users “in due course”.  — Staff reporter, TechCentral

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