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Posted at 2:59 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Google Maps can now steer Android users around traffic

By Rob Pegoraro

The end of the road for many GPS navigation units got a little closer yesterday when Google added automatic traffic re-routing to the Android version of its Google Maps smartphone program. You shouldn't need a new version of Google Maps for Android; the app should just take note of Google's traffic data and re-route you accordingly.

As Google's blog post explains: "Starting today, our routing algorithms will also apply our knowledge of current and historical traffic to select the fastest route from those alternates."


One result: Monday afternoon, a copy of Google Maps for Android suggested a longer route from downtown D.C. to Tysons Corner, via the George Washington Parkway, which it estimated would take less time.

On the other hand, when I used Google Maps earlier today to guide me from Arlington to WAMU's Tenleytown offices (where I was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show), it suggested routes coming and going that would have been longer than those served up by my car's GPS in almost any level of traffic. Fortunately, there was none worth complaining about, and I've driven that route enough times not to need any navigational help.

Factoring in road congestion is a smart thing to do, and yet another way that an Internet-connected device can outsmart a GPS navigation unit. Yes, the GPS gadget carries its own maps around and doesn't need to download any on the go--but Google Maps for Android acquired a limited offline mode in December.And it's safe to expect further improvement to that capability.

The Google-powered mapping application on Apple's iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, however, continues to be deprived of these navigation features. It still can't call out your turns as they come up on the map, much less react to road conditions. I have to think that Apple will have a major update to that program this summer. But that update was only a little less overdue last summer.

(In other mapping news, Google now includes Interstate 66 inside the Beltway in its directions when appropriate, correcting an error flagged in Sunday's Help File column.)

My commute this evening won't involve a car, so I can't report on Google's performance in serious traffic. But you can: If you have an Android phone and a car commute, punch in your home's address and let it call out directions on your way there. Then leave your review in the comments here (please, not while you're still on the road).

By Rob Pegoraro  | March 8, 2011; 2:59 PM ET
Categories:  Android, Location awareness, Mobile  
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If you have Google Maps on your Android's home screen or leave Google Maps or Google Navigation open while you're on the road, you are contributing to Google's traffic data. So even if you're not using it for navigation, go ahead and leave it open, you'll be helping out other road users.

Posted by: BalooUriza | March 8, 2011 5:28 PM | Report abuse

"The end of the road for many GPS navigation units got a little closer..."

Oh, I don't think so. Can you use your phone, outside in RAIN and other wet precipitation? I didn't think so. Can you use your phone and it's software to lay out routes--by hand--load them into your phone and then follow them? Again, I didn't think so.

As a motorcyclist, I simply don't see your phone providing the solution I get from my current, 3 year old GPS. Until a smart phone can be used OUTSIDE in the worst weather you can think of, it's not going to supplant my Garmin Zumo GPS, which can be outside in any kind of weather.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, Rob. ;-)

Posted by: henwin | March 8, 2011 10:38 PM | Report abuse

"Google Maps can now steer Android users around traffic"

I'd prefer it if Google Maps could just steer everyone out of my way. :-)

Posted by: ahashburn | March 9, 2011 9:07 AM | Report abuse

I've used the google directions several times; bottom line it works for close in (within a few miles) destinations but I don't rely on it for distances or complex routes without reviewing/modifying the route before starting. In California late last year, it continually directed me back onto main routes directly into rush hour traffic even though I'd deliberately started out on bypasses or shorter routes it went straight to the highway. Plus it dropped maps a lot going down rt 101 (which is now fixed somewhat). In Denver it totally missed using the airport road (although it's an "unmarked" electronic toll collection - you get a surprise bill), in local driving in Virginia, for routes with more than a few turns/streets it consistently produced a circuitous route compared to a Garmin beside it. I'm not sure if the difference between the Garmin is the routing algorithm or the underlying road database-the Garmin database has a lot of underlying street information such as speed limits, lane directions, etc. On power usage, running GPS and maps pretty much kills the battery for a two hour drive - it must have a power adaptor (phone is a Droid X), the bigger the better (USB 1 type devices just prolong, not halt, battery discharge). So although I nolonger carry separate GPS and a phone, I still need a mobile charger. Overall, it works when managed, but I never use it by simply getting in the car, typing in a destination and taking off, especially if going to catch a return flight on a trip.

Posted by: southVAHmptn | March 9, 2011 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I got my droid because of the GPS. The gps function died after 7 weeks, and I had to replace the phone with a rebuilt model--not happy. Negative comments about the map updates have kept me from updating. I do use it and rely on it, but I usually check routes before leaving home. Sometimes maps has me go a longer way, but I reroute myself and it picks it up. Would love to rely on traffic rerouting, but since I generally stay in my home area, I usually can figure out where to go. I can't read the Thomas Guide so this was a wonderful thing for me.

Posted by: gail12 | March 9, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

One item I forgot to put in my comments: If Garmin put out an Android app that worked like their Nuvi, even if I had to load gigabytes of of map data, I'd buy it and use it over google maps. My choice to finally go to a smartphone was based on reducing gadget; reducing the number of times I had to pull out a laptop to get a contact and a GPS navigator. Like gail12, GPS was a factor in my purchase. I am on my second Droid, first one failed in the sensor controlling which way the display oriented.

Posted by: southVAHmptn | March 10, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

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