Google Maps for Android – better than a GPS navigation box?

There were two features that helped navigation device makers withstand the competition from cellular map software makers like Google — turn-by-turn voice directions and the device’s ability to work even where there is no cellphone signal.

While the second factor — offline function — was addressed by Google for its Android map application few weeks ago, the other function — turn-by-turn navigation — has also been addressed today.

It must, however, be noted that the features are for the Android version of Google Maps and not for those available for other phones such as Nokia and Windows.

Google Maps started as a purely network-dependent map service and worked more or less like a paper map. It was later fortified with the ‘routing’ ability — under which users could find out the most optimum route between two points on the map.

As a user moved along the route, the map showed a green dot that showed the user’s latest position on the route. However, there was no feature that enabled the phone to speak out live directions to the driver (“turn right, turn left.”)

Similarly, while navigation device makers would preload the map of the entire world (or the country in which the device was to be used) before they sold the device to the consumer, Google Map users had to have a live Internet connection to use the service.

However, with the ‘offline’ feature enabled a few days ago, Google Maps now stores all the data that it once downloads and reuses the same when the person revisits the area.

If you thought the latest update was all about equalling the funtionality of a standalone GPS navigation device, you would be wrong. Google Maps now has a functionality that most standalone navigation devices don’t have — live traffic updates on both the mobile and the desktop versions.

The biggest benefit of standalone devices, such as those from TomTom, is that they don’t need or use the cellular data network. Google has turned its liability into an asset, enabling the live traffic feature which would not be possible on a preloaded map device.

“In other words, whether you’re heading to the Bengaluru airport for a business trip or visiting Agra’s world-famous Taj Mahal for a weekend of sightseeing with friends, Google Maps Navigation has you covered. Your phone will announce upcoming directions to you as you move along your route — and it will even use a friendly and familiar Indian accent if you’ve selected the Indian English locale on in your phone settings,” Google said, announcing the launch of the turn-by-turn navigation feature in India.

Google Maps will also begin to offer live traffic information for major roads in six large Indian cities and their surrounding suburbs: Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad.

“As in other countries, Google’s traffic data is shown in a simple and readable color scheme — red for significant congestion, yellow for minor slow-downs, and green for free-flowing traffic — to help you analyze the traffic on your route with just a quick glance,” it said.

One can view live traffic by enabling the traffic layer on or in the Google Maps app on your smartphone, or simply by visiting and entering a query like ‘traffic in hyderabad’.

Google Maps on desktop even allows users to check “typical” traffic conditions for a particular day and time, based on historical data.

In places where traffic data is available, Google Maps Navigation will take congestion into account to ensure that you’re always given the directions most appropriate to current conditions.

India is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing markets for online map services worldwide for Google.