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Posted at 05:06 PM ET, 03/08/2011

Google Maps can now steer Android users around traffic

The end of the road for many GPS navigation units got a little closer yesterday when Google added automatic traffic re-routing to the Android version of its Google Maps smartphone program. You shouldn’t need a new version of Google Maps for Android; the app should just take note of Google’s traffic data and re-route you accordingly.

As Google’s blog post explains: “Starting today, our routing algorithms will also apply our knowledge of current and historical traffic to select the fastest route from those alternates.”

One result: Monday afternoon, a copy of Google Maps for Android suggested a longer route from downtown D.C. to Tysons Corner, via the George Washington Parkway, which it estimated would take less time.

On the other hand, when I used Google Maps earlier today to guide me from Arlington to WAMU’s Tenleytown offices (where I was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show), it suggested routes coming and going that would have been longer than those served up by my car’s GPS in almost any level of traffic. Fortunately, there was none worth complaining about, and I’ve driven that route enough times not to need any navigational help.

Factoring in road congestion is a smart thing to do, and yet another way that an Internet-connected device can outsmart a GPS navigation unit. Yes, the GPS gadget carries its own maps around and doesn’t need to download any on the go--but Google Maps for Android acquired a limited offline mode in December.And it’s safe to expect further improvement to that capability.

The Google-powered mapping application on Apple’s iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, however, continues to be deprived of these navigation features. It still can’t call out your turns as they come up on the map, much less react to road conditions. I have to think that Apple will have a major update to that program this summer. But that update was only a little less overdue last summer.

(In other mapping news, Google now includes Interstate 66 inside the Beltway in its directions when appropriate, correcting an error flagged in Sunday’s Help File column.)

My commute this evening won’t involve a car, so I can’t report on Google’s performance in serious traffic. But you can: If you have an Android phone and a car commute, punch in your home’s address and let it call out directions on your way there. Then leave your review in the comments here (please, not while you’re still on the road).

By  |  05:06 PM ET, 03/08/2011

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