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State Of Mobile GPS in India

Ever since I bought the Nokia E71, I have become a bona-fide GPS junkie. This addiction is helped in no small measure by my increasing ability to get lost anywhere and everywhere. In the past four months, I have tried few of the available solutions and I am going to jot down my observations. Till date I have used Nokia Maps, MapmyIndia and Google Maps and I will be trying out Satguide's software soon to complete the product line up.

Nokia Maps (powered by their Navteq acquisition) is the most refined, classy looking and user-friendly of of all three products. The level of detailing is reasonable and so is the accuracy. One thing to note about all the solutions is that data for India is rather sparse, which means you don't get traffic data in any of the solutions, resulting in the situation where the only determinants in route calculations are distance and time.

Nokia Maps is also one of the pricier solutions in the market. While you can try it out for free in the first three months after your purchase of any GPS-enabled Nokia handset these days, the subscription charges that follows it is quite steep. An all-region (India) 1- year subscription will cost you USD 219 and for a 1-year subscription of select cities will cost you USD 118.99 (USD 42.99 for a 90-day license and USD 15.99 for a 30-day license). I can't imagine why would Nokia use dollar pricing for a product that they are pushing very strongly in the Indian market.

In all likelihood, the product has not been yet customized for India. There is no INR pricing available for the licenses anywhere on their Indian website for the licenses, while USD and Euro prices are available from the other websites and it could wind up hurting them really badly.

Nokia Maps Features:
Voice Prompts: Yes (English)
Map Loader: Yes
OTA license renewal/Purchase: Yes
OTA software upgrade: No
Trial Version: Yes (3 months when it comes pre-installed on Nokia handsets)

The InavConnect is MapmyIndia's mobile GPS solution. The company has tied up with Wayfinder to bring out the product and for all practical purposes the application is just a cobranded version of Wayfinder's software. Of all three, I have used the InavConnect the most, using it within Delhi/NCR and also on my road trips to both Bikaner and Manali. The application is more than a bit clunky and not very refined and the search can be quite odd at times. There is a workaround for it by saving places in the application itself, but in this age a dysfunctional search can really kill you in the market.

The application also seems to have a very low threshold in calculating what can be deemed as going 'off-track'. While I was driving around in the hills and highways, it used to happen quite a lot, even if we were to have slightly gone off on either side of the road. There is also the case of an update lag with the application. If you are driving above 40 KMPH, the software can often take an additional second or two before it updates the location to the current one. This can have interesting consequences when you are approaching forks in the road or roundabouts as we found out. It led to us taking the wrong turn about three times, before we figured out what the problem was.

That said, MapmyIndia maps are fairly detailed and quite accurate, which makes up for the clunky software. The license too is not very expensive, with the 1-year subscription being priced at INR 1990. which includes coverage for all India, making it the best value for money proposition for the paid products, as even Satguide's software costs INR 2183, though it is not transferable to another handset.

InavConnect Features:
Voice Prompts: Yes (English)
Map Loader: Yes
OTA license renewal/Purchase: No
OTA software upgrade: No
Trial Version: Yes (5 days, get download link from Wayfinder.com)

When Google Maps was launched in its latest version, it had a glaring problem. Like the other two products, the application was not really customized for India, leading to features like directions being entirely disfunctional. That changed a couple of months ago when Google upgraded its India Maps to provide directions. The maps are very accurate the search is what swings the deal massively for Google, since it also incorporates the placemarks that users have added over time to Google Earth/Maps.

But the real reason why Google has set this market alight is the price point. There is no price for the application and beyond the rates that you pay for transferring data over GPRS the application. Add Google's location-based social networking product, Latitude, to this mix and it is then not too difficult to imagine why they will turn this segment upside down with the product. Yes, there is not voice assistance for the navigational features, but at pricepointzero, most users will more than happily live with it.

Google Maps Features:
Voice Prompts: No
Map Loader: No
OTA license renewal/Purchase: NA
OTA software upgrade: NA
Trial Version: NA

Conclusion and tips

The market for GPS devices and software in India is very very nascent. Honestly, the companies have more to gain from targeting the business segment (fleet operators) than the individual consumers to make any decent cash for a while to come. The maps themselves have limited use within cities and they largely come on their own on the highways. Besides, India is a country where directions are what we get from pulling over to the roadside and asking a local bloke, it is hard to break that comfort factor.

One feature I would like to focus a bit more, in all the software, is the map loader functionality. This is one major weak point for Google Maps. WIthout a map loader, the application will have to pull the data over GPRS each and every time. If your data plan makes you pay by the kilobyte, this can turn out to be quite expensive over the long run, which is where a map loader can make a significant difference.

Wayfinder's map loader allows you to preload map data for India from the computer. Even though this weighs in at a hefty 50 MB, it makes the maps run much faster and the data transfer too is quite low as a result. Nokia Maps also offer a similar facility. Do note that neither product bundles the map loader with the standard software, you have to download it separately.

in the coming months, I will test Satguide's software and post an update.


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