The future of GPS navigation (and advertising?)

Google maps has been around for a long while now, and has been steadily getting more and more useful with the additions of hybrid map/satellite view, street view and live traffic. The logical next step is to put all these together into an easily accessible & portable GPS navigation device.

Well Google has probably had this on the agenda for a while. The free open-source Android mobile operating system is beginning to really take off with most major mobile manufacturers taking a stab at it. And since more people will be walking/driving around with Android devices, it's the perfect medium for GPS navigation.

Not surprisingly, Google has just announced Android 2.0 and full turn-by-turn GPS navigation support. This means you can use any Android device with a GPS receiver as the ultimate navigation tool. You can use the Google maps interface in 3D mode like any regular navigator, but you can also use the satellite telemetry mode, a hybrid of satellite and map mode, or street view where available.

Now street view turn-by-turn navigation is an interesting concept. Other GPS navigators already have some fancy lane guidance views, but these are just artificial. Street view is the real thing. You see an image that corresponds with your current position which is superimposed with a guiding path.

Now this isn't perfect yet. Obviously street view is only available in a small selection of major cities and won't help you much in remote areas. The street view images are also static, so a picture that was taken 6 months ago may not be accurate in certain areas. Downloading the images over the mobile carrier networks would also consume a lot of data and may experience considerable lag if reception is bad.

The prospect however is interesting. The next steps would be for Google to somehow make deals with mobile carriers to offer Google Map data streaming for free. In another 5 years or so, download lag and bandwidth may no longer be an issue either. This could make it possible for an Android navigator to show more frequent street view images in an almost video-like fashion mirroring your exact position in real-time.

If that happens, Google would be in a good position to consider making lots of money out of this free service. And what better way to do that then advertising! Namely, Google serves all the street view images for your navigator, but their image processing algorithms detect any flat, blank surfaces and artificially embed billboard ads, posters, company logos, etc. This could subsidies their deals with mobile carriers to offer free streaming of data, and would still make them a considerable amount of money.

For this to succeed, the only thing that's needed is for more and more people to be buying Android devices. And the more people that buy Androids and use the mapping service, the more accurate Google's live traffic updates will be, which is an even better incentive for more people to switch on and use the Google navigator.

The only thing left would be for Google to somehow get Android users to take the street view images. The simple way would be for having the mobile attached to the windscreen and using the rear-camera to take snapshots and upload them online, although this would be poor quality and provide limited viewing angles at best. Alternatively Google could create a compact version of their 3D camera that gets mounted to the top of a car and takes snaps. The camera could double as a stronger GPS receiver that pairs with the Android device via bluetooth.

If this were to take off, then Google would have a much larger street view coverage, and thus a much larger area for embedding visual advertising. You can imagine the type of advertising deals too. Obviously busy CBD areas would be most frequently viewed and hence would attract the biggest brands, but smaller more remote areas could advertise local shops and services, etc.

It's a crazy dream...but I think Google's already onto it.

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