By Harry McCracken | Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 11:30 am
Among the bevy of interesting things about Verizon’s Droid smartphone is Android 2.0’s new version of Google Maps, which includes full-blown turn-by-turn GPS navigation with spoken instructions–for free. Judging from the couple of trips around San Francisco it’s guided me on so far, it would be pretty darn appealing even if it wasn’t a freebie–the directions worked, it speaks the names of streets in a crisper voice than AT&T Navigator sports on the iPhone, and I like the way it switches to a Street View photo once you’ve arrived at your destination.
Google says it’s working on bringing the new version of Maps to other devices. If it does, for-pay navigation applications will have to be radically better to compete, which is bad news indeed for all the companies charging for smartphone navigation apps–and probably even worse news for those who sell stand-alone handheld navigation devices. People are already spreading doom and gloom about the future of navigation stalwarts such as TomTom and Garmin.
There’s at least one form of dedicated navigation hardware that I hope doesn’t vanish: built-in car systems, which have nice big screens and, in some cases, user interfaces better designed for on-the-go use. And pilots, sailors, and other specialists will still want their customized GPS devices. But if we all get navigation that’s 90 percent as good as the best stuff out there for 0 percent of the price, it’s hard to see how many folks will justify paying for another gadget–especially one that may carry a monthly service charge.
Your take on the fate of GPS hardware, please: