Google: charting a course to the future

By Jordyn Marcellus

With Google’s announcement of a free navigation service for its Android phone platform on Wed., Oct. 28, the friendly search giant is proving it is unwilling to play nice with other major technology industries. Google has also announced it would love to unleash this application on the iPhone, so long as Apple approves.

The app- which functions like a super-GPS unit usually found mounted in cars- is in almost every way superior to units created by companies like TomTom and Garmin. It offers the typical turn-by-turn navigation found in most of these products, but also uses the powerful Google search engine to offer a more potent user experience.

Using this new service, searching for “jerk chicken”- which can be done through speech commands- will find a Caribbean restaurant and calculate the route immediately, using Google’s street view functionality to show exactly what the restaurant will look like before you arrive. There’s even live traffic view, to know precisely what the traffic situation is like as well.

What’s more, this service is free. Similar apps for mobile platforms usually range from $20 to $100 and have severely reduced functionality compared to this mobile Google Maps-based navigation app. As well, normal GPS units require you to buy new maps for different countries- and those can costs hundreds of dollars. Google’s software will not.

Needless to say, Google has made a potential game changer and stock analysts have noticed. Since the announcement, stocks for two of the biggest GPS makers have taken a relative nosedive. Garmin dropped 29.99 per cent in a week of trading, with second place manufacturer TomTom slipping a whopping 33.33 per cent.

More than anything, this simple announcement shows a continuing technology trend: better products at excessively cheap prices. For instance, Skype is another such useful tool on smart phones- instead of using phone minutes, it allows people to talk on their phone using their data plan. It’s one of the more simple forms of capitalism: get in the way of other services and offer it at a discounted price.

Google intends to support this service in their usual way: ad revenue. While this new navigation application isn’t open source like Google Wave, another of the company’s much buzzed about products, it is still a superior product at a fraction of the cost.

With smartphone penetration reaching approximately 13.5 per cent of new cell phone handsets sold- likely approaching 38 per cent by 2013, according to Mobile Marketing Magazine- this could result in a significant reduction in the number of GPS units sold over time, and if Apple chooses not to allow it on the app store, a boon to the Android phone platform.

This is the new digital economy, where no technology industry can be safe from the cutthroat practices of companies like Google. “Innovate and evolve, or die” is now the absolute truth when it comes to the industry, and now it’s the GPS industry’s chance to experience the crunch when big bad Google decides to play for keeps.

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