Remarkably it has been almost six months since Maps Navigation was launched in the US, but now we Brits have finally gotten our... (wait for it)... turn.
Quietly launched to users last night via an OTA (over the air) update, all owners with handsets running Android v1.6 and above should now have access to the free service. This is the full fat version too, with vector and StreetView modes available, voice search and thousands of POIs (points of interest). There is also a car dock mode which displays a simplified homescreen with large finger friendly controls.
Why would Google give away technology which in itself has been enough to sustain multinational firms like TomTom and Garmin? Ads. Ultimately Google's business model is that of a slick ad delivery service and it needs to keep finding new and innovative ways to deliver these ads to users - the more context sensitive the better. Consequently bringing us free turn-by-turn navigation and POIs can in time be linked to sponsored searches for nearby restaurants, hotels and amenities. It's clever stuff.
Competition? Nokia responded by making Ovi Maps free in January, while the likes of TomTom are starting to licence out their more advance navigation features to third parties as seen recently with IQ Routes.
That said, the ubiquity of Google Maps and the seamless integration of Google Maps Navigation mean if I had shares in any satnav companies I'd be looking to ditch them asap...
Update: as many have pointed out, Google Maps Navigation gets around the issue of intermittent (or flakey) 3G coverage by caching an entire route once it has been planned. That way all you need is GPS reception. Clever.