September 23, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka
Google Maps Navigation is Android’s most talked about and attractive feature, but not everyone needs directions while driving. Some folks want voice guidance while navigating the sidewalks more often than the streets; hence the recently released update for Google Walking Navigation (Android 1.6+ required).
When I first heard about Google Walking Navigation, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “That’s cool.” Everyone has a car in my hometown, and our grid-based system makes it easy to figure how to get anywhere once you know the address.
But what about the more complex cities like New York? While in Manhattan for the Samsung Galaxy Tab event, I decided to put Walking Navigation to the test in the Big Apple. If the new feature can make it here, it can make it anywhere.
I started the day near Chinatown in search of some cheap shirts and figurines to bring home for family and friends. Walking Navigation easily got me to Canal Street, but I quickly learned that traffic laws in New York are more of a “suggestion” than law. Cars push the limits of red lights and attempt to turn while people are in the crosswalk, so you must always be on alert and use Walking Navigation cautiously. This goes for any city you visit, so Google is sure to warn users to pay attention to traffic more than their devices (earphones are a must in my opinion).
After being displeased with the wares on Canal, a friend recommended New Beer Distributors to purchase imported brew), and Maps kept telling me to turn left on Chrystie Street – even though I had already been walking down Chrystie for two blocks. Then it was off to world-famous Katz’s Deli for lunch, followed by a trek to J&R Electronics, where Google Walking Navigation showed its awesomeness and shortcomings.
Faster than a New York second
Voice notifications in Walking were clearly understandable and helped me find my way without having to constantly look at my phone to check directions. Awesome.
However, those notifications became tougher to make sense of when walking in areas with busy traffic circles and winding roads. When Division, Bowery, Chatham and Doyers Streets are all in view, it’s tough to quickly process instructions for which street to take when cars, bicyclists, and fast-moving New Yorkers expect you to keep pace. This was an even bigger problem the previous day when I visited Columbus Circle and Times Square, which are even busier areas.
My earphones made the instructions clearly audible but reading streets signs and keeping up with the flow of traffic for such a complex city was no easy task. Looking at the Maps screen provided some help, but the compass indicator experienced some trouble pinpointing my orientation in the Time Warner Center and Herald Square on other portions of my trip. This can happen when near clusters of tall buildings, something that NYC has plenty to offer.
New York City proved to be challenging for use with Google Walking Navigation, but the beta application is off to a good start. I’ve been to New York several times and struggled to navigate its busy streets; but as tough as it was to use Walking Navigation, finding my way without it has always been tougher. Maps Navigation will not be ideal in every situation and results will vary on the complexity of your location, but the comparative success I experienced has convinced me that this will get me where I need to be.
Based on these results, I’m willing to wager that Walking Navigation will be even more successful in other cities.