Google releases turn by turn navigation on Android phones in the Middle East and North Africa

It’s been a long time coming but it’s finally here. Google has finally enabled turn by turn navigation using Google Maps on Android phones in the UAE.  It was late last year that public transit information was made available on Google Maps, and you’ve also been able to get directions and map routes on Google maps for a while now. Now with voice assisted navigation, your Android phone becomes a full fledged GPS device.

In addition to navigating to search results in Google Maps, the dedicated Navigation app (which is likely to be pre-installed on your Android phone) lets you type in or ‘speak’ a destination. The engine powering Navigation is the same one that powers Google Now and all other things voice recognition on Android. Not only does it do an amazing job of recognizing what you’re saying, but the speech output is extremely natural too.

Navigation also lets you select a friend right from the app and navigate to their place – provided you or they have input their address.

It’s great to see Google show some love to the region.

 Update – The roll-out is actually for the entire Middle East and North Africa. Link to Press Release here



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Hanging out with Google in the UAE

Google MENA held their first real life hangout with bloggers in the UAE at The Pavilion Dowtown Dubai and I was one of the selected (read: lucky) few to be invited. Joining us from the Google team was Ari Kesisoglu (MD Google MENA), Maha Abouelenein (Comms head for Google MENA) and Hind Rasheed (Comms Manager for Google MENA).

Both Joe Akkawi (@JoeAkkawi) and Ion Gonzaga (@ionGonzaga) have covered the event quite exhaustively on their blogs (and I highly encourage you to check it out) so I’m not going to be doing that again. I will however talk about my impressions of the event.  The entire event was very Google-esque, right from the choice of the venue to the setup of it. Not only was it done in an informal setting, the Google team (and especially Ari) were extremely welcoming and encouraging of our feedback, and were extremely gracious in receiving it – both the good and the bad. In fact, at one point @IbaMasood and I went into a semi rant of sorts against Gmail’s search operators and Ari was listening intently. I’m not sure if/when improvements may be made, but at the very least it served as catharsis. I can imagine the other attendees may have had similar conversations with the team.

The event served as a great way to meet fellow bloggers who I have only met virtually until now as well as a catalyst for discussions about issues affecting us – not necessarily with Google products. The Google team here must be lauded for effectively putting together a great event without turning into a sales pitch as Iba may have feared. Ha.

I only managed to get a few pictures of the event which can be found on my Google+ page (had to be done). I must say I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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Google’s hard fall reminds us of how big it really is

Gmail fail

Here I am, blogging live from the great Gmail crash of September 2009. Every single group column in my Tweetdeck window is filled with tweets about Gmail. It took about 10 minutes for ‘Gmail’ to become Trending topic #1 on Twitter. The number of tweets posted in those 10 minutes is just shy of 24000, and this is of course only the first batch of people who happened to be online when Gmail went down. I would think the number of ‘Gmail tweets/minute’ is likely to go up.

With all this going on, I can’t help but wonder Twitter really has a long road ahead of it if it wants to become the pulse of the planet. And with Google Wave on the horizon, things aren’t likely to get any easier.

(Image via @holaphil)

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Android will be the Winner!

I was watching the live stream of the last TWiT which featured Robert Scoble, John Dvorak and Dwight Silverman as guests along with host Leo Laporte. They were discussing mobile phones and platforms and Scoble said he didn’t see Android being #1 in the future.

I think he’s wrong. A huge reason for the iPhone’s success has been it’s application platform development. The applications available on the App Store have resulted in a multi fold increase in the utility of the device, both for productivity as well as entertainment. A pre 2.0 iPhone looks practically naked now. But this is just one device.

Google’s Android platform is available to , and will be used on many devices. The G1 is only the beginning. With Samsung, Lenovo, Sprint and AT&T poised to bring Android devices in this and next year, Android’s reach is going to spready increasingly. Soon enough a user won’t be stuck with one form factor. Devices with QWERTY keyboards, Numeric keyboards, No Keyboards, Large Screens, Small screens, slide devices, flip devices etc will be available in Android flavour. All this choice will result in increased adoption among users.

This increased adoption of Android will make development for Android increasingly lucrative as developers will now have access to a much much wider consumer base which in turn will result in an increase in the number of applications and attract even more consumers. It’s a cycle right there.

Android’s greatest strength lies in the openness of the platform. Wonderful things will be done with it in the future. One needs to remember the first device was launched only 3 months ago and Android’s is still in the infancy stage. 2010 is going to be a huge year for Android. You can quote me on that.

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Never mind Gmail, let’s take Chrome out of Beta!

Techcrunch reports that Google VP Marissa Mayer told Michael Arrington (of Techcrunch) that Google will be taking Chrome out of Beta. Turns out this is not news at all. Windowsitpro reports Google VP Sundar Pichai already told the same thing to The Times in UK with a time frame; January. This is most likely due to their decision to increase market share by convincing OEMs to bundle Chrome with new PCs who won’t accept a Beta product.

Gmail despite having a range of features has still been in Beta for years. But Chrome is still an immature product. Speed is its greatest advantage but Opera almost matches that and preliminary tests of Firefox 3.1 Betas show it is likely to match, if not beat, Chrome. In addition FireFox has a wide variety of addons which Chrome is yet to match.

I just think Google is better off developing a fuller product and then distributing the product en-masse rather than ship an incomplete product only to have users switch to a fuller browser.

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