Over the years, Google has rightfully earned the crown of game-changer and established itself as the tech giant that it is. Just a couple of days ago, it reminded us again of just what makes it a force to reckon with. Yes, we are referring to the launch of the latest offering from Google, two new features to make Google Maps even more purposeful – Google Maps Navigation that is turn-by-turn voice guided driving directions and live traffic information for Android.
While we could use and rely on Google Maps for finding our way, you now have the ability to see how much time you will take to reach the said destination depending on the traffic; it will even suggest alternate routes to save time. And it doesn’t stop at that. While you are driving on the selected route, it will alert you of traffic conditions ahead and recommend alternate route on the go. In a city like Mumbai, where the traffic can test the patience of even a yogi, a service like this is God-sent. Little wonder that the launch of the service caused a lot of buzz around. Rossi Fernandes, our in-house certified geek who can’t seem to get over his Galaxy Nexus, was particularly stoked, because belonging to the rare breed of Jelly Bean users he had access to certain additional features.
He tried out the service the same day on his way home from office and was more than impressed. Rossi says, “As an everyday use utility, it gives more meaning to Google Maps as it exists today. The feature now shows up traffic updates as a layer in Google Maps on the web, when you access it from the desktop and also on your phone. It's handy, because now you can plan out your journey accordingly. You can plan out what the time to leave for a particular place is too, which is neat. However, one of the nicest things to happen to a Jelly Bean user like myself, is the integration of traffic updates on the personal assistant, Google Now. It knows my usual mode of transport and the stations that I board and get down from a bus when I travel to and from work. It also has the added benefit of showing me bus timings and schedule when I'm near a prominent bus stop or station. The traffic integration throws up alerts on the phone telling me that hotspots where I'm likely to be delayed and also alternate routes that I should consider, and how much time I'll save if I choose them. While there might be some who might be worried of privacy concerns, for me I think of it as a useful utility that could have been offered as a paid service, but it's not. It's free and it works rather well!”
It will show you the estimated travel time depending on traffic and even suggest alternate routes on the go
But how does Google manage to get the live updates on to your device? Here is where the numbers come into play and by that we mean the number of Google Maps for mobile users. Darren Baker, Product Manager for Google Maps, explains, “The live traffic data used in Google Maps Navigation is crowd sourced from users of Google Maps for mobile. If you use Google Maps for Mobile with GPS enabled on your phone, that's exactly what you can do. When you choose to enable Google Maps with My location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you're moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions.”
There are several devices and tools available in the market for you to choose from. They aren’t free, but they claim to cover every nook and corner of the country and offer more than just navigation services. On the other hand, Google Navigation has its limitations, but it’s nonetheless accurate and would suffice the needs of everyday traveller who wouldn’t want to spend on a dedicated GPS navigation device. Google Navigation may not be able to provide you with data for all places, Baker explains, “Traffic data is refreshed every few minutes with the most recent known conditions. The accuracy can vary depending on the number of data sources providing speed information to Google - for example, in a city where a lot of people are using Google Maps for mobile and contributing speed information through traffic crowd sourcing, the traffic data may be more accurate than another city where their aren't as many users. If we don't believe we have enough data to publish reasonably accurate results, then we don't publish it at all. This is why some roads will show traffic data at some times of day and not at others.”
You can even check the live traffic on your desktop
While the app itself is free, the only thing you need to worry about is the data charges that you may incur. Google Maps Navigation automatically accesses the latest information about roads and points of interest from Google’s online mapping services without the need for any manual data updates. Baker elaborates, “Its real strength lies in the fact that it's an internet-connected GPS navigation system. Being connected to the Internet means you're always using the latest data from Google Maps - the most recent maps, businesses, traffic, and current local events. You never need to buy map upgrades or manually update your device - Google Map data is constantly updated with the most current map and local information. Once you start navigating, Google Maps Navigation (Beta) downloads map data for your upcoming route, so navigation, and even rerouting, will often continue to work even during periods of lost connectivity. However, further searches will have to wait until you're connected again.”
Currently, Google Maps Navigation is accessible to Android users anywhere in India while the live traffic information is available on Google Maps for major cities of Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad. You can check the traffic conditions by enabling the “Traffic” layer on Google maps for desktop or mobile. It uses a very simple colour scheme to represent traffic – red stands for significant congestion, yellow for minor slow-downs and green represents free flowing traffic. While this in itself is perfect, what makes it an even sweeter deal is the voice support not only for navigation, but even for search, which is important as Baker puts it, “Voice search is extremely valuable in Navigation (Beta), since so often when you want to navigate somewhere you are walking to the car or trying to hit the road and don't want to waste time fumbling with a phone keyboard! Just say your destination, and Google search finds it. You don’t even need to know the address. Also misspelled queries are corrected, and ambiguous queries return multiple results so the user can choose.”
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