You get into a cab, and you tell the driver your destination, a place that you're going to for the very first time. He/she turns around, and gives you a blank stare. At this moment, you know it's time to whip out your trusty mobile phone and turn yourself into a human GPS. You've read that right. Not a dedicated GPS device, but a mobile phone.
Three years ago, we've already had mobile phones embedded with GPS chips. This was done, in the name of convergence, giving you the option to utilize the phone as an alternative to a personal navigation device. Back then, this was a great idea, only with one problem – the availability of maps and voice navigation to accompany the GPS feature. To complete the navigation experience, one has to pay for either the maps or the voice navigation software.
And now? Things have certainly changed. While Nokia is struggling with its smartphone market share, it did get one thing right - its map and navigation features. Back when it was still known as Nokia Maps, it already gave Nokia a slight edge in the navigation services with the provision of free maps. This was a factor that was lacking from other smartphone brands that promised GPS features. In 2007, Nokia announces its decision to proceed with an US$8.1 billion acquisition of Navteq, a digital map information provider, which was duly completed by July 2008.
What does this mean for consumers? Two words – free navigation. Following up with the Navteq acquisition, Nokia announces free maps and voice navigation for its map services, which has been renamed as Ovi Maps. This, on top of a pedestrian-friendly Walk mode and live traffic updates, clearly highlights the importance of navigation on your mobile device.
From a consumer's viewpoint, Google Maps is similar to what Nokia has to offer – free map services, albeit without the navigation aspect except if you're in the States. Beyond that, Google works closely with the local transportation authorities for enhanced information. Case in point, if you're travelling in Singapore and require directions, Google Maps gives you more than that. It gives you tools such as traffic conditions as an overlay on the map and instructions for public transit that lets you plan a smooth journey ahead of you.
Websites such as gothere.sg build upon the power of Google Maps. Its recent foray into the mobile scene as an app on Apple iOS is a prime example of how the mobile space places emphasis on maps and location. More importantly, it enhances the experience for consumers with two all-important factors - cost and time. By providing commuters with an easy access to such travel information, commuting is made even easier and hassle free.
Should manufacturers of personal navigation devices such as Garmin and Holux have reasons to worry? Yes and no. Mobile phones promising free voice-guided navigation software might eat into the GPS market share, but there are certain bells and whistles that aren't available. Besides a more advanced routing algorithm that's highly localized, there's also the little amusing features to consider. Perhaps, this Forceful demonstration by TomTom will give you a better idea of what we meant.
Seow Tein Hee / Former Associate Editor
Attuned to the latest mobile technology and news, Tein Hee is always on the lookout for innovation and creativity in the mobile industry.