Google Developing a Free Mobile Nav App?

The PND device companies and their related suppliers are scrambling to reinvent themselves in the wake of better and better smartphone mapping and tools that get people from here to there. TomTom for example launched an expensive app (plus cradle) for the iPhone and the company has also introduced an "infotainment" product:

The all-in-one TomTom GO I-90 solution can be fitted into any car, so even those with older car models can have an integrated navigation experience. It also offers consumers all the advantages of easy-to-use portable navigation, yet fits seamlessly into a vehicle dashboard. The device provides full radio integration with the car speakers for high quality audio when using spoken instructions, or making hands-free phone calls. Although the full solution is integrated, the navigation device is totally portable so it can be removed from where it sits in the audio system to be used in other cars.

Meanwhile Garmin is becoming a handset OEM of sorts to fight back. And the first "connected" PND platform Dash essentially went under (and was acquired by RIM for BlackBerry devices). However I believe most of these adaptation efforts will prove ineffectual. Most people will not have smartphones and PNDs and most people will not pay the $100 for the TomTom app on the iPhone. 

This increasingly bleak situation for the PND makers is compounded by the possibility that Google is developing a free navigation app, which may represent a major nail in the coffin of the PND industry. According to Forbes:

Google has a tendency to enter a market, undercut its competitors' prices and put established players out of business. Navigation service providers are wondering if they're next.

The companies, which provide voice-guided, real-time, turn-by-turn driving directions on people's cellphones, have a hunch that Google is developing a mobile navigation application that it plans to give away for free.

Chatter about such a product first surfaced several years ago, when Google introduced a mobile version of its maps program. The proliferation of the search giant's mobile operating system, Android, in recent months has given the rumors new fuel.

Such a turn-by-turn directions app for Android would be a truly differentiated feature from the iPhone, especially if it were an intrinsic part of all Android devices. And, as the article mentions, it would all-but-kill the navigation subscription business (such as VZ Navigator). 

Absent some pretty dramatic product enhancements or otherwise radical innovation (such as sub $100 pricing), the PND market will continue to shrink into obscurity.