Google has slipped turn-by-turn navigation into the latest version of Android, giving away one of the few mobile services for which punters were still prepared to pay.
The application, which will only be available on the yet-to-be-launched devices using Android version 2, provides all the functionality that one might expect from a satellite navigation service: route planning, directions and points of interest, along with Street View pictures to help with the details and caching of maps to allow off-line use, and all for free.
Google Maps Navigation won't, necessarily, be bundled with every Android 2.0 device; that's up to manufacturers and network operators, but devices that do have it installed will provide turn-by-turn instructions and even cache maps once a route has been planned, which should make it operable even with connectivity lets you down, but try not to deviate too far from the proposed route unless you're confident of your connectivity.
Rumours about the application have been around for a while, with hints including Google's steady removal of its reliance on map providers, sourcing more of Google Earth's maps from information collected by its fleet of Street View cars, and even allowing users to report map errors as well as monitoring user locations to feed traffic information.
Limiting the app to Android 2 should provide a killer feature for the platform; users will upgrade just for Google Maps Navigation, or switch platforms to get it, but the release is bad news for everyone else in the satellite navigation business, including Nokia, who are going to have a hard time competing with the Chocolate Factory's policy of giving away services.
Gizmodo has a nice walk-though of the service, though if you've seen a satellite navigation system before then most of it should be familiar to you, it's just the price which will take a little getting used to. ®
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