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Google brings free satnav to UK

The navigation system is available as a free update to Google Maps on Android phones, but won’t stop there. Google confirmed at a London press conference that it plans to bring free satnav to other smartphone platforms, including the iPhone, although it wouldn’t say when.

Unlike rivals such as TomTom or CoPilot’s smartphone software, Google’s satnav software doesn’t store maps on the device but downloads them on-demand from the cloud. That means users will need to have an active data connection when planning routes, though not while travelling.

“Google Maps pre-caches the entire route,” said Mobile Maps product manager, Steve Lee. “It needs a data connection when you ask for navigation. But while driving to your destination, if you intermittently lose the connection, it will still carry on. As long as you stay on the route.”

Once underway, users can choose from several viewing options: in addition to standard maps and directions Google provides satellite imagery and access to Street View, plus live traffic data (though it cannot yet automatically reroute to avoid congestion).

The launch of Maps’ satnav will doubtless be a blow to commercial providers such as TomTom and Garmin. However, Google claims the satnav makers had become complacent and that they will now be forced to innovate.

“Google prides itself on innovating in markets that have been stagnant for a while,” said Hugo Barra, director of mobile products at Google. “I think navigation is a good example. It will be good for users.”

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