Tag Archives | Navigation’

Google Maps for Android Now Helps You Avoid Traffic

The navigation products available for cell phones aren’t perfect, but there are a lot of us out there that depend on their directions to get from Point A to Point B. However, up until now the app had no way of knowing whether a road was closed or a traffic jam or accident would slow your trip down–thus, knowing traffic before you left or during your trip was a necessity.

Not any more. Google on Monday rolled out functionality in its Android app which will use both current and historical traffic data to plan routes, as well as give alternates. The Maps function could do this previously, however it was only for set conditions — i.e. the shortest route in distance or to navigate around toll roads.

Accessing the new functionality is as simple as loading the app itself — no update is required. This seems to be due to the fact that the change is not on the phone itself, but rather on Google’s servers, which the app pings to return directions to you.

The functionality will be available in both the North American and European markets where Google has access to real time traffic data. No word if this will make it to the iPhone version of Google Maps, if ever.

Have an Android phone and live in a congested area? Please let us know how the new version is working for you.


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TomTom GPS Comes to the iPhone: So Far, Not So Good

TomTom Car KitTomTom’s long-awaited–relatively speaking–GPS navigation software for the iPhone is now available on Apple’s App Store. It’s $99.99 for a version that includes maps for the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada–pricey for an iPhone app (and almost three times as much as CoPilot Live, which I haven’t tried yet) but not outrageous given the extreme usefulness of turn-by-turn driving directions.

This isn’t a full-blown review, but I’ve been using TomTom for a few quick trips around my neighborhood, and so far I’ve found it far less appealing than AT&T’s Navigator (a $10-a-month iPhone service powered by TeleNav)–even though the two products are comparable in many ways and TomTom is packed with worthwhile features.

That’s for two basic reasons:

A) TomTom offers spoken directions available in multiple languages with a variety of voices in both genders with a variety of accents. They sound nice and crisp. But so far in my trips, they’ve never spoken the names of roads–not even major highways, let alone neighborhood streets. Navigator offers only one voice (plus a Spanish-language option) and it sounds pretty muffled even over my car stereo. But when it tells me to turn, it mentions the street by name. Every time so far.

B) When TomTom wants to give me a heads up that I’ll need to do something before long, it specifies distances in yards. Odometers, most road signs, and my brain all use fractions of miles. And so does Navigator.

Between the lack of spoken road names and the frequent references to yardage, I’m finding it mighty tough to follow TomTom’s directions through the audio instructions alone; I have to glance at the iPhone a lot, and even then it’s not always clear what TomTom wants me to do. With Navigator, by contrast, it’s pretty easy to keep on track simply by following the spoken directions.

Other notable differences between the two packages relate to the fact that TomTom is an app-plus-maps package sold at a flat price, while Navigator is a service that downloads maps and other info as you need them. TomTom occupies a hefty 1.2GB of space on your iPhone, works even if you don’t have a data connection, and doesn’t offer live traffic info. (Maybe the company will offer traffic data as an optional service–it’s available for its hardware devices.)

Navigator, by contrast only uses 3.2MB of memory on your phone but requires a working data connection. And it does offer live traffic info–a feature which helps to justify the monthly fee.

Both Navigator and TomTom have done a good job of keeping pace with my wanderings via the iPhone’s built-in GPS so far, but I’m still intrigued by TomTom’s car kit, which builds more powerful external GPS into a mounting bracket. TomTom doesn’t seem to have announced the price for this optional accessory yet.

Bottom line for now? I’ll take Navigator over TomTom for now, but I’m still looking for my dream iPhone GPS solution, and want to check out other available options. Are you using an iPhone for GPS? Any recommendations?

After the jump, a couple of TomTom screens.

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Google Maps Knows Where You Are

Google Maps LogoOne of the nifty new features that debuted in Firefox 3.5 last week was support for the W3C Geolocation API Specification, a Web standard that can fake a GPS-like effect by using clues such as the Wi-Fi networks you’re near to figure out your location. The only problem was that the standard isn’t yet widely supported by the Web sites and services that could benefit from it.

Chicken, meet egg: Today, Google updated Google Maps to take advantage of Geolocation.  Click on a circle on a map, and Maps will do its best to determine where you are, saving you the time of typing in an address. (I almost never use hotel-room phones anymore, but still find them invaluable because they’re usually labeled with the hotel’s street address.)

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