Google has rolled out free turn-by-turn satellite navigation for some Android users in the UK and Ireland, six months after it did so for its US customers.
The new functionality was deployed in beta form on Wednesday. Google Maps Navigation can show traffic conditions and satellite or street views, and works with voice commands. It will work on any handset running version 1.6 or higher of the Android OS.
Speaking at a London launch event, Google mobile maps chief Steve Lee said Maps Navigation provided an "immersive 3D mapping experience".
Lee attributed the staggering of the US and UK releases to "a number of issues that came up during development", such as business and technical issues. He said one factor that had necessitated the later UK release was the relative popularity of roundabouts in road layouts.
When the user defines a route for navigation, the service precaches the entire route, so it will not be affected by the intermittent dropping-out of data connectivity that usually comes with constant motion, Lee said.
Handset giant Nokia freed up its own Ovi Maps service in January, after the US launch of Google Maps Navigation. The Nokia service lets users preload entire regional maps so they can avoid heavy roaming data charges when travelling.
Lee said while Google was evaluating the possibility of letting users preload regional maps, "what is really important is keeping the experience really simple for users".
"We don't think mainstream users will sideload [regional maps]," Lee said.
He added, however, that another feature of the new Ovi Maps — navigation for cyclists — would come out on Google Maps Navigation soon.
One question is how the service will cope with the UK's varied regional accents with voice commands. Google spokeswoman Laura Scott conceded that "if someone has a really strong accent, it's going to be a bit more tricky" for Maps Navigation to correctly understand the user.