Better late then never! Airtel has launched its own location app for smartphones, offering voice based turn by turn navigation, and real time traffic information, in addition to route planning and POI (Points of Interests) search. While third party navigation solutions from companies like MapmyIndia, have been available for a long time, in addition to handset specific services such as Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps, and the recently introduced Google Navigation (only on Android phones), we’ve not seen telcos launching a full fledged navigation/maps service. The app is powered by Wisepilot, a mobile navigation solutions provider. We also observed that the app uses NAVTEQ Maps for location and traffic info. Note that the Nokia owned maps and location service company, had launched its real-time traffic information service, NAVTEQ Traffic Pro in the Indian cities of Delhi and Mumbai, earlier this year.
Traffic Info: According to Airtel, traffic information is calculated on the basis of the number of GPS devices being used on the particular road and their average speed and historical trends of traffic. Currently, traffic info is live in Delhi &NCR, Mumbai and Bangalore cities and the company plans to launch it in Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune by December 2012. The app colour codes zones in red, yellow and green to indicate the flow of traffic.
Besides regular location features, the app also allows users to keep a record of all trips they make when using voice navigation for later reference, Wikipedia information of places for which information is available and the ability to add frequently visited locations to favorites, in addition to weather information about the place.
Platforms: Just like other online maps applications (Nokia and some others allow users to store maps offline), the service will require access to mobile data, and a GPS enabled mobile phone. The app supports multiple platforms including Android, Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, and will be soon available on iOS. Airtel users can download the app by visiting www.airtellive.com/smartdrive from their phones or by sending an SMS ‘smart’ to 54321 and clicking on the link in the message.
Pricing: While searching locations and viewing the maps are not chargeable, Airtel will offer Navigation at Rs 10 per day and Rs 99 per month. Live traffic will be available at Rs 3 per day or Rs 49 per month. Note that this does not include data charges, however, Airtel has decided to waive off data charges for the service till 30th November 2012. The FAQs page on the Airtel SmartDrive section mentions that data is only used when the user performs searches, or calculates routes.
Our Experience: We were easily able to get the download link after sending an SMS request. After installing it, we found that location and places search, and maps were offered by default. We were able to add a daily subscription to traffic info and navigation from the ‘Shop’ within the app, and the services were activated without much delay. The navigation interface allows users to search for places and addresses and get turn by turn instructions for driving or walking. One thing that we observed here is that the app doesn’t let users download complete maps offline, and caches them. This will increase data use and not allow users to use navigation without internet access, unlike Nokia Maps or MapmyIndia’s navigation apps that store maps offline. The navigation view provided info such as the distance, approximate time of arrival and speed. We were also able to view traffic info. Note that we’ve not been able to test the app while driving.
While telcos in other markets have been bundling navigation services and apps for a long time this is a first if we exclude USSD, and SMS alerts based services from Aircel and Tata Docomo. Android users have access to Google’s own navigation solution, Nokia smartphone users can use Nokia’s maps, there are other smartphone users including Blackberry and iOS users who have to rely on third party navigation apps. While the operator billing solution is convenient and appears to be less expensive on the face of it, users would end up paying more for data use. Even Google’s Navigation service doesn’t use offline maps. We feel that Airtel should have supported offline maps, as well. We’d recommend opting for a solution that offers offline navigation and maps.