Summary:

How can navigation companies fight against the likes of free offerings such as Google Maps? They either have to create extra value in terms of data or the experience. Navigon takes a step towards doing that with a free Android app that finds nearby parking spots.

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I’ve long relied on Google’s free Navigation in Maps for my Android devices, but if competitors can bring value-add features, I’ll consider them. Take Navigon, for example. The company just updated its paid Android app to version 3.5.4, bringing support for Gingerbread and including a simple flashlight feature. But a free, separate install adds the new Help2Park software:

The application helps drivers find a parking spot nearby, using a clean and easy to use interface. By gently touching a dial, users can set the radius they’d like to search in. Tapping a “P” symbol then opens a list of parking options – including addresses and distances from the current location. By changing the view, the spaces can also be shown on a map.
Of course, I live in the sticks, so even turning the radius dial to the maximum search area of 2.5 miles comes up empty. Then again, we RFID tag our cows, so the city dwellers have nothing on us when it comes to technology.
 

In essence, the Help2Park app is a twist on what Google Maps already offers: if I search for parking on my Google Maps app, I can easily see the nearest lots. But Navigon’s new software is single-purpose and doesn’t require any user input unless you need to modify the default search range.

Ideally, as we see smarter parking meters, I’d expect our connected handsets to take this entire concept a step further by showing which actual spots are open. And of course, our navigation app ought to get us to that open spot; preferably before someone else gets it! Unfortunately for the Navigons of the world, Google excels at taking big data and funneling it down to individual software that’s often free. I’d expect this point to be a hot topic at our Structure: Big Data event later this month in New York City: a city where it’s nearly impossible to find a good parking spot.

Google has already leveraged this big data expertise with search, news and, to a large extent, with maps in its Navigation app. That makes it difficult for a pure navigation product to compete on a paid basis. It has to create enough value in terms of data or experience to win over consumer dollars. Clearly Navigon knows this too; after all, it’s using Google’s own mapping solution for the new Help2Park app!

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