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Google Maps for Mobile Gets Layers and its own Maps, Turn-by-turn Voice Navigation Next?

The latest 3.2 version of Google Maps, now available for Blackberry, Nokia S60 and Windows Mobile features Layers, a function allowing selectively displaying specific content categories such as traffic, Latitude (friend finder), transit information and Wikipedia entries. The My Map layer allows easy synchronization between the desktop and mobile. It makes for a more structured and organized local content discovery experience by switching on or off specific layers, with the clear map function erasing all active layers to return to a clean map display. It reminds of the layer concept used in some recently launched Augmented Reality solutions such as Layar.

While Google continues to enrich its mobile mapping application now having reached an exceptional level of mapping, search and content functionality it still lacks turn-by-turn voice instructions (arrow-based and text-based navigation instructions have been available for a long time). As stated in a previous entry on this blog, the main reason hindering the launch of free turn-by-turn navigation are the high digital map licensing fees Google has been paying Tele Atlas. Indeed, has been paying, as Google recently switched from Tele Atlas maps to its own in-house maps in the US. This should remove the major barrier standing in the way of offering free true navigation.

At the same time Google ramps up its efforts in the mobile advertising space. While Google is still porting its banner/display advertising type approach from the desktop to mobile, the availability of targeted, relevant location-based ads and marketing messages represents a much bigger opportunity both in terms of advertising revenues (with higher CPMs) and new types of user interaction such as click-to-locate and/or click-to-navigate to redeem coupons in a local shop. Clearly, offering the full experience to the end-user will require launching.turn-by-turn voice navigation instructions rather sooner than later.

A good pedestrian navigation remains equally important. The integration of an electronic compass in many smartphones such as the iPhone and Android phones allows rotating maps maintaining alignment with the direction a user is facing, an essential enhancement to traditional pedestrian navigation. This is also useful in Street View mode. Surprisingly none of the Blackberry models nor the Palm Pre features a built-in electronic compass.