Google has given UK Android users a pleasant surprise by enabling the turn-by-turn Navigation function in Google Maps.
While US users have been enjoying sat-nav style turn-by-turn directions - complete with a forwards-facing '3D' perspective and voice directions - for quite some time, it has previously not been available outside the US. This latest update - which is server-side, so doesn't require a new version of the client to be loaded onto handsets - finally brings the function to the UK, albeit in beta form.
While it's now enabled across the UK. the feature isn't yet live for the rest of Europe - although that will surely follow soon. Strangely for Google, the extension of the Navigation beta to cover the UK was carried out with little fanfare, with eagle-eyed HTC Desire users on the XDA Developer
forums spotting the change and breaking the news last week.
The move will come as a worry to satellite navigation manufacturers such as TomTom and Garmin, as the availability of a completely free package which integrates into an already existing handset is obviously more tempting than spending not inconsiderable amounts of money on a dedicated device - especially if you need map updates in the future.
Google Maps on Android isn't likely to replace dedicated devices in the short term, however: because maps and directions are streamed to the device rather than stored locally, the service won't work if you're in the middle of nowhere and can't get a data signal on your phone - precisely the sort of situation in which you need a sat-nav most. Users on per-megabyte billing for Internet access should also steer clear of the feature, unless they want to be saddled with a mountainous bill.
The Navigation-enabled version of Google Maps is available now to all devices running Android 1.6 or above - although the dedicated 'car dock' user interface is only available to Android 2.0+ handsets. More information - plus screenshots for those who haven't yet decided to splash out on an Android handset - is available over at the official Google Navigation site
Any Android users here planning on ditching their sat-nav systems now Google Maps Navigation is live, or are there features that still need to be improved before Google take the beta tag off the system? Share your thoughts over in the forums