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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Moderating the Mobile Marketing, Commerce and Apps table at Digital Cream Day Dubai

In February, Econsultancy hosted their annual Digital Cream Day at the Westin Mina Seyahi. The global versions of the event have been around for a few years but it was only the second year for the Dubai one.

The event aims to bring together client side marketers and provide a platform for discussion on all things digital marketing. In contrast to all the conferences we’ve seen and attended, the event facilitates a dialogue between the marketers as opposed to having a speaker speak at the audience. That’s not to say one is better than the other but in this setup the discussions gives result to some excellent insights on the pains and the pleasure of the marketers.

I was asked to moderate the Mobile Marketing, Commerce and Apps table at the event and I jumped at the chance of it. In a region where mobile penetration is above 100%, it was going to be interesting to see how marketers were adopting and adapting to this still very nascent medium.

I’ve penned down some key points of discussions from the three tables through the day on the Econsultancy blog. The two key takeaways – first marketers are still spread across the spectrum with some just getting started while others having rolled out advanced strategies; secondly iOS (unsurprisingly) remains a dominant platform, but Blackberry – despite its pervasiveness – is not considered optimal.

Read my post on the Econsultancy blog for more insights from the day.

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Focusing on the mobile experience

There’s a lot of talk around mobile marketing and it’s not expected to slow down. And as easy as it is to get lost in the buzz, we often need to take a step back and realign our goals and objectives with the executions. In my first post for the Econsultancy blog, I write about focusing on building an experience that may augment their real life experience rather than merely creating a substitute platform.

Click here to read the post on Econsultancy blog

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The world’s favourite 800 pound gorilla is mobile enough

Facebook held a Mobile event yesterday where they had a bunch of announcements?:

  • Application updates for Android and iPhone, both now have access to Places and Groups
  • Single Sign On API which means you can log in to any application on your phone with 2 taps; no usernames, no passwords, no captchas.
  • Open access to places API – so far most applications could only read into the API, now all applications can write and search.
  • Deals platform – allowing business to have special deals/offers for users.
  • Oh and they also announced that there are 200 million users who use Facebook on Mobile. So there’s at least 25% of the Facebook population using Facebook mobile (I’m going by high estimates for total 600million users).

These were the announcements made by Facebook but there are heavy implications and strong insights that can be derived from these. Here’s what I make of it.

Facebook makes Foursquare irrelevant

Facebook, the world’s largest social network and platform was seen as lagging behind Geo Location earlier this year. Everyone’s favourite geo location darling was Foursquare who had a great idea. But that was it; all Foursquare had was a great idea. Foursquare has been unable to adapt and improve considerably since its launch. The idea of mayorships and points got stale quickly and the only thing that could have people sticking around is the idea of rewards. Unfortunately with slow approval times for businesses (some like Wild Peeta had it in a week, I had to wait 3-4 weeks) the service wasn’t quick enough and this definitely could have a thorn in its growth path. Some local businesses in the UAE did get specials onto Foursquare but that took a while too. This is a luxury Foursquare cannot afford since that is its main selling point. Even the newly international app SCVNGR (which I am super excited about) has challenges, treks and rewards going for which are a lot of fun, but faces stiff competition. Facebook however has the entire social element  going to keep its huge user base busy while they roll our Places worldwide. In the mean time Facebook went ahead and launched Deals which added real utility to the location element. Facebook wins, even if it is in a few weeks/months of from today and Foursquare starts to become irrelevant.

Facebook wins by solving the Geo Networking fragmentation

By opening up access to the Read, Write and Search API to all applications, Facebook has essentially turned most Geo Networking applications into clients that use the Facebook Places service, assuming this is what they do and they would be stupid not to. You can now check in to Foursquare, tag your Facebook friends on it and your friend on Gowalla can see where you checked in. Of course Facebook wins and they do it by bringing the Geo Networking fragmentation at one locus point; Facebook Places.

Mobile! Social! Local!   Mobile! Social! Local!

These are three words Eric Tseng, Head of Mobile repeated a few times and for good reason too. Facebook has more than tripled its mobile userbase from around 65 million this time last year to about 200 million yesterday. If that won’t make you a believer in mobile than not much else will. Mobile by its very essence is local and the growing numbers point people want to be social, locally. Businesses that understand and adapt to this will succeed. Groupon is a business that gets it; they’re local by nature, social by strategy and now increasingly mobile thanks to Facebook.

My blog title of course talks about Facebook’s (and the entire industry’s) growing emphasis on Mobile but it also talks about how mobile (quick to move) Facebook has been at rolling out new products. The 2000 person company has been agile enough to adapt and evolve to just as well as it leads the industry and that has been a major factor for it’s success. This is why Twitter and Google are so far behind in location and why they should feel threatened.

A quote from The Social Network stuck by me which describes Facebook perfectly – “It’s never finished“. My last post talks about how I feel Facebook might have less conversation and more activity on the platform now, and maybe it might have had a negative connotation to it. But now I feel, and as the platform is growing, that might not be a bad thing. Social doesn’t necessarily mean just talking and conversing, it can mean doing things together and sharing the things we do ourselves. It’s about bringing our connections deeper into our lives and enhancing our social lives further.

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Geonetworking – the new Mantra in Social Media Marketing in Travel and Tourism

I discuss the use of GeoNetworking by businesses and institutions in Travel and Tourism industry to promote tourism in the newest edition of Travel and Tourism news.

“Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have taken relationship marketing and permission marketing to a whole new level. But don’t blink yet, the next step in social networking and media is already here and it is telling you where to go and who to meet.”

Read the entire article here on the Travel and Tourism news website

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