Several companies, which provide voice-guided, real-time, turn-by-turn driving directions on people’s cellphones, have a hunch that Google is developing a mobile navigation application that it plans to give away for free.
Google spokeswoman Carolyn Penner noted that consumers frequently ask the company to add navigation to Google Maps, but declined to comment on future products.
The company’s competitors are more vocal. “Google has clearly been investing in mapping,” says Steve Andler, vice president of marketing at the wireless navigation company Networks In Motion. Besides its popular Maps desktop program, Google offers a basic mapping service that works across all major mobile operating systems and a mobile mapping feature called Latitude that lets users share their locations with friends.
Some location-based service providers speculate that mobile navigation is the next logical step for Google. Google, which generally gives software away for free and recoups its investment through advertising, would likely sell ads within the navigation application rather than charge users, experts say.
Close watchers of Google say there is evidence it is developing a navigation app. The company has been collecting mapping data for years via several methods, including high-resolution satellites and its own fleet of camera-equipped cars. In August, it rolled out an additional feature that sources traffic information directly from its users’ phones.
In early October, Google decided to use this data for its U.S. maps, ending a licensing agreement with map provider Tele Atlas. (Tele Atlas says it has a contract to work with Google on international maps through at least July 2013.)