Google unveils Japanese Car Navigation Application

Google launches Google Map Navi for Japan

Google Japan recently unveiled Google Map Navi – a car navigation application for the Japanese market –  that could be used free of charge with Android based smartphones.  The car navigation functionality comes integrated with the GPS functionality of the mobile phone in this application.  Google Japan implemented the car navigation functions by making improvements in the route navigation function of Google Map.

The Google Map Navi has functionality to search for public restrooms, hotels, restaurants and other facilities located on the route, apart from its main function of route navigation.  This car navigation application is very user friendly.  A user can search for the desired destinations and facilities by voice input.  All the user needs to do is to speak the address or the destination into the phone, and the application will start searching for a route connecting the user’s current location to the destination.  A user can search for restaurants located on the route by speaking words such as ‘family restaurant’ and ‘grilled meat’.  Public restrooms,  gas stations and parking areas can be searched in a similar manner.

Google Map Navi system works with conventional maps as well as with aerial photos.  In addition, by double-tapping a location on the mobile screen, one can see a Google Street view picture of the location.  The navigational system also notifies the user of the arrival and displays a picture of the destination using Google Street View when the user is near the destination.

Google already has launched similar Car Navigation applications in the United States and Europe.  This is the first time Google is rolling out its customized version of the car navigation system in an Asian country.   The car navigation application customized for Japan can handle some unique situations in Japan such as unnamed roads and searching for a route that does not include the toll roads.  Google Inc. is planning to implement such features in services being provided in other countries.  Though Google offers traffic information to car drivers through a similar system in the United States, it is not planning to have this feature for the initial release of the application.  Also, though at present the Google Map Navi is mainly designed for car drivers, Google Japan plans to provide a similar service for bicycle riders and pedestrians in the future.

To be able to install Google Map Navi, the mobile phone must be compatible.  If Mobile Google Map and OpenGL can run on the mobile phone, it can run Google Map Navi too.  Apple’s iPhone is not supported for this car navigation application.

Similar car navigation services are offered by other mobile phone companies in Japan; however, Google plans to attract more users by providing more search capabilities.

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Don’t SMS while driving

Cars these days use many smart devices to warn and remind drivers of seat belts like buzzers and bells.  It is about time another problem was taken charge of using cell phones for talking and text messaging while driving.

Several car gadgets companies have come to realize that creating a widespread effective solution is not just a tough job but it is also not as simple as putting up reminders.

Although many states have banned drivers from using mobile phones, this has not seemed to reduce the number of crashes.  This is possibly because drivers continue to flout laws for their own safety.

Some start ups have managed to produce applications which are designed to deter drivers from using mobile  phones while driving.  However, the problem is that they work on only certain type of phones and they have a difficult time figuring if the cell phone user is really driving or not.

sms while driving

The important players are still  to step in and help such as wireless carriers, auto manufacturers and the federal government.  Small companies are not being able to promote widespread use and their tools might not really be able to improve safety.

Drive Safely Corp is proposing phone software that can detect if the phone  device is faster than fifteen miles per hour using a GPS chip.  It will display  a series of letters and numbers which need to be matched from the keypad to unlock the phone.  They assume that matching will not be possible while driving and hence the phone will not unlock for texting.  But this can prove dangerous for a determined driver.

There are other services with software tools like Textecution, CellSafety, TxtBlocker and ZoomSafer use the GPS chip of the phone to know if the cell phone user is moving.  They hold incoming messages in quarantine till after the trip and block the user from writing new ones.  These are expensive in comparison to regular downloadable applications.  Some of them cost 40 dollars with 4 dollars a month recurring fees. Parents of teens will pay for this just for feeling secure.  But since they have an option of override, a determined person will still take advantage of it.

Key2SafeDriving and Cellcontrol are using another approach, that of using the car to let the phone know  if it is moving.  They have a gadget which plugs into the car’s port.  This was originally intended for mechanics to diagnose car problems but it also manages to let the gadget know how fast the vehicle is moving.  Above a specific speed, the Bluetooth receiver of the phone receives a wireless signal and the phone application locks out some features of the phone.

This method does not drain the battery of the GPS although its software does not work if the phone has not been set up for a particular transmitter.  But a common problem in both methods is that these applications run only on certain phones like BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or high end expensive Nokia phones.  Phone like iPhone that lack smart OS systems like are of no use here.

The optional sync system of the Ford Motor Co links phone to the car controls, It reads out messages and can understand spoken commands. But replacing manual manipulation with voice commands remains questionable as research shows that mobile phone conversations distract drivers irrespective of whether or not they use handsfree.

Cellcontrol, iZup and DriveSafely are some other services for curbing distractions from your phone while driving, but the real challenge really seems to be to make the drivers just drive!