Sat Nav – the Killer Application for Offline Web Technology?

    Craig Buckler

    web-based satnavIn yesterday’s post, I discussed the problem of developing offline web functionality and the disappointing number of applications which use it. I summarized that offline functionality seems like a technology waiting for an application.

    However, there is one killer app which will almost certainly change the market within the next few years: web-based satellite navigations systems. Sat navs have been around for a while, but they can be expensive, require dedicated devices, and are not always easy to update. There is also software for mobile phones, such as those from Google and Nokia, but the facilities can be limited.

    However, a pure web-based sat nav is becoming increasingly feasible and offers several benefits.

    Better location search
    If you don’t know your destination’s street name or zip code, a sat nav can be practically useless. A web-based solution lets you locate a destination by company name, area, type of business, or any other criteria using natural language.

    Instant updates
    Details of new routes, road works, accidents, heavy traffic etc. can be updated in real time and relayed to a web application. Some sat navs offer this facility but many require subscription fees and the quality of the information is variable.

    Data mashups
    A web-based sat nav can access information from anywhere on the net. Once your route is calculated, the sat nav could offer live videos of road-side cameras, restaurant or hotel offers, sites of interest, etc.

    Collaborative routing
    Details of every user’s journey can be collated and analyzed. The driver would have access to a huge database of recommended routes, average times, interesting journeys, etc. Rather than selecting the shortest or quickest route, the driver would be able to select the quietest, most popular, best scenery, etc.

    Alternative transport
    A web-based system can access information from a variety of transport systems — not just the road. For example, the data might indicate that a route will be especially busy because of holiday traffic, recommend a train service and instantly book a ticket.

    Supports existing hardware
    Many smart phones already offer good web browsers and GPS facilities. There’s no reason why you couldn’t use a netbook, tablet or similar hardware rather than a dedicated device.

    Multiple input methods
    Dedicated sat navs have restricted hardware and software, but a smart phone or PC can support other input and output devices. For example, the web cam or microphone could be utilized to offer gestures or voice control.

    Free data
    Systems such as Google Maps, Street View and Earth already provide free mapping data which could be used by a web-based sat nav. The systems could also be commercialized by companies paying to play audio or text-based adverts when you approach their premises (think Minority Report!)

    However, the current problem is internet connectivity. Wi-fi is not universally available and mobile internet connections could be slow or fail when entering a tunnel or built-up area. The obvious solution is offline web technology. Once you’re on the road, the application could cache the full journey details or download essential information within, say, a 10-mile radius.

    Both Nokia and Google already offer beta versions of free turn-by-turn navigation systems for mobile operating systems. The news has caused TomTom’s share price to slump in recent weeks, although there’s no reason why TomTom couldn’t capitalize on the technologies.

    Do you think a free browser-based sat nav using offline technology will emerge? Will it happen soon?