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Google Unveils Free Navigation Service For Android 2.0 Devices

Turn-by-turn directions will soon be available to users of Android 2.0 devices, like Verizon's Droid, courtesy of Google.

Adding yet another point of potential friction with Apple, Google on Wednesday introduced a beta version of Google Maps Navigation, an Internet-connected navigation service for mobile devices that offers turn-by-turn, GPS-guided travel directions.

Google Maps Navigation leverages Google's search technology to recognize destinations without requiring the entry of a complete address. It allows users to speak destinations instead of typing them.

Google has posted a YouTube video that demonstrates how a user can say, "Navigate to the de Young Museum in San Francisco," and receive directions from the user's current location.

The navigation interface provides colored traffic condition guidance and the option to view route information with 3D satellite imagery superimposed. It also makes use of Google Street View imagery and includes a car dock mode.

Over the summer, Apple made a big deal about the iPhone's potential as a navigation device, following the launch of version 3.0 of the iPhone software. At its Worldwide Developer Conference in June, Apple brought Peter-Frans Pauwels, CTO of navigation device maker TomTom, on stage to describe TomTom's forthcoming iPhone navigation application. The app launched in August, at a price of $100.

Google Maps Navigation, available only in the U.S. for the time being, is free. It's launching on Android 2.0 devices, the first of which, Verizon's DROID, will be available on November 6.

The DROID is widely seen as the first Android phone capable of challenging the iPhone. Verizon's DROID site displays a Flash splash page that lists alleged iPhone deficiencies and claims that what Apple's iPhone can't do, DROID does.

If Google CEO Eric Schmidt hadn't resigned his seat on Apple's board in August, he'd likely be doing so now. He has recently been predicting exploding growth for Android phones and describing the benefits of powerful mobile devices connected to Google's cloud infrastructure.

It's a message Google's troops have been repeating. As a Google product manager puts it in the Google Maps Navigation video, "Being connected to the Internet means that you have Google's massive computing power in the palm of your hand."

For Apple, that power spells trouble. The issue isn't just competition from Android devices. It's also a matter of what Google's power means to Apple's ability to control the iPhone, as the ongoing Google Voice controversy suggests. And judging by Apple's recent purchase of mapping company Placebase, navigation and map technology isn't an area that Apple wants to cede to Google.

Blue Cross of Northeast Pennsylvania, the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and a range of large and small healthcare providers are using mobile apps to improve care and help patients manage their health. Find out how. Download the report here (registration required).

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