Google brings Android turn-by-turn sat-nav to UK

Google brings Android turn-by-turn sat-nav to UK

Summary: The UK gets free navigation six months after the US, with the delay partly due to roundabouts, but Google is circumspect about taking on Nokia with preloaded maps

TOPICS: Mobility

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.

Topic: Mobility

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • I wonder what happens if a government agency decides it wants the routes planned across the cloud on these Smartphones. Can they grab it, if it (the data not the person) is in their jurisdiction?

    I have a TomTom and so the problem doesn't arise, the data isn't on the network and so isn't grabbable without getting to the physical device. But the more data you put in the network, the easier it is to grab.

    Taking it further, if a vendor can remotely install software on a machine, phone, computer or otherwise, and it's legal (Germany passed such a law) to do that, would they comply and install government spyware?

    I note Engadget said that UK users 'woke up' to find they had the upgrade, as if it was rolled out to their phones without asking.

    Related to this case, the school where the admins watched the students like ceiling cat.
  • @guihombre - The upgrade was not installed to the phone, the service was just unlocked from Googles servers to the UK. US users of the exact same app have always had access to navigation, it's just been blocked for UK users, and therefore didn't appear on the app.