Sheer Google Brilliance… And I’m Not Talking Android

Mari Silbey —  November 7, 2007

google-gas.jpgMost of the news on Google is (rightfully) focused on the giant’s new mobile phone strategy. However, there’s a story in the AP today (covered by our buds at JKOnTheRun) on a new initiative to bring Google Maps to gas stations. This is utterly brilliant. A few of the gas stations near me have started adding TV screens to their pumps. Since all I usually do when I pump gas is stare at the numbers showing the amount of money I’m pouring away, I think the TVs are a nice improvement. I’m a captive audience, and I’m not complaining.

However, adding in Internet-connected screens with Google Maps on them is actually useful to me. I sadly have no sense of direction, and even with a GPS unit in my car, I like the idea of having something as user friendly and quickly adaptable as Google Maps available at the gas pump. Even if I’m not lost, it’s a nice way to look for a short cut to wherever I’m going. Or just to browse local routes since even after six years I still don’t know a lot of the back roads in my area.

One thing is clear, Google is finding a range of ways to go mobile. And hey, those gas station screens will hit the market in December, long before Google handsets are available. Just in time for holiday travel.

12 responses to Sheer Google Brilliance… And I’m Not Talking Android

  1. Agreed on it being a good idea. We’ll see how it works out. I assume they’ll do it via a touch screen? With an onscreen virtual keyboard? Multitouch would be too much to ask at this point, but hey…

    I’ve heard that touchscreen LCDs for tablets are on the order of a few hundred dollars more than the same LCD without. But of course that’s not for something exposed to the weather all the time, so who knows? Maybe the technology doesn’t hold up when exposed to continuous air pollution, wind, rain, etc and it’ll be some awful pushbutton thing…

  2. I have to admit that the description of motorists being able to “scroll through several categories to find local landmarks, hotels, restaurants and hospitals selected by the gas station’s owner” doesn’t fill me with confidence about the interface. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see. The AP article does say the pump will let you print out directions. Pretty cool.

  3. i certainly don’t want to be waiting in line for gas behind someone who can figure the thing out…

  4. Umm, I don’t get it. With smartphones, GPS systems, printed web maps and WiFi devices enabled with Google maps access becoming more and more ubiquitous, why would a progressive company like Google bother with this kind of backwards facing concept. I get the local targeted ad opportunity here, but attaching yourself to physical devices that you don’t govern, at gas stations of all places, seems destined to become ugly very quickly. Nice and clean Google is just looking for a big black smudge across it’s pristine image, literally and figuratively. Bad idea.

  5. Because the VAST majority of people do NOT have smartphones, GPS systems, or WiFi devices that can access Google Maps. Geeks tend to forget that most of the world isn’t as geeky and is lagging far behind the leading edge in tech adoption.

    And the majority of people don’t plan ahead and print maps for each trip. The opportunity is someone who is lost, or confused, or just wondering how much longer they have to go.

    If you have a WiFi device you need an access point – which are actually pretty rare if you’re not in an urban area. I know in my area (Worcester, MA) it is not easy to find an access point, even downtown, unless you find a Starbucks or the like. And then you pay for access.

    The number of people with GPS systems – portable or in their cars – is still negligible compared to the overall market. Even most of the geeks I know still don’t have GPS systems. I deliberately did not get navigation when I bought my new car in 2005 – it was too expensive and I felt the installation was too ugly too. The people I know who have GPS systems tend to be those who go off-road – bike treks, four wheeling, camping, hiking, etc. And not so much for driving.

    Smartphones are more common than in the past, but still not very common. Most cell phones are still basic phones or ‘feature phones’ which have more features (V-Cast, email, etc) but not a full smartphone platform – no Google Maps and the like. I have a Palm Treo and I have Google Maps installed, and it is useful – but most of the people I know don’t have that kind of phone. That have things like a RAZR, etc. Even the other smartphones at work – Blackberries, WinMob phones, etc – don’t have Google Maps installed. Not by default, and the users haven’t installed it. Though they have web access so they may be able to use the online maps OK.

    Of course, there are many people who don’t make enough to have *any* high tech devices, and either have no cell phone or just a basic pre-paid phone with no special features. They still need directions.

    Someday smart devices will be ubiquitous and cheap, but not today – or very soon.

  6. I flew Virgin America to CTIA two weeks ago and they use Google Maps on their in-flight entertainment system (which I hope to write up in the next few days – took tons of pics). I assume the maps are cached locally and mated with the plane coordinates. Though the flight crew was using tablet computers and some sort of wireless network. I tried to sneak a peak, but couldn’t figure out if it was WiFi, Bluetooth, or something else.

  7. It will be difficult to use WHILE pumping gas if you live in a state like New York where hold-open latches on the pumps are illegal…

  8. What?! Not everyone has an iPhone yet? Okay MegaZone, you missed the forest for the trees. By the time all of these things roll out, getting to Google Maps one way or another will be far easier than it is today (which is pretty easy). On top of that, it is just absurd to think that anyone who does not have access will just roll up on gas station that happens to have a Google Map kiosk and after being so lost as to having to stop and ask directions will simply approach an unfamiliar high-tech device/interface and discover not only how to use the thing (while the wife goes to shell out $60 bucks to fill the tank and asks the station attendant for directions) but also master it enough to find out where he is and where he needs to go. Oh hey, will these things have printers? Are they touchscreen? Yikes! By this point some are likely to put a fist through the thing and start to blame Google for their misfortune.

    I could go on and on about how bad an idea this is that my Qwerty thumbs would get sore from typing. But with technology becoming more accessible at lower price points and gas prices skyrocketing where is the forward-looking perspective in any of this nonsense? Here in New Jersey where you can find anything with a few right turns, where many ride mass transit, where it is a sin to not have a modern cell phone, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, we’ll do just fine without this and so will the rest of the world. This is pure arrogance on the part of Google but they have the money to burn, right?

  9. I’m glad some other people are not all about this concept either.

    My head has exploded several times waiting behind people at the grocery store self-checkout. I’m pretty sure I would either die or kill someone if I had to wait behind lost people figuring out a mapping system.

    Also, why are we encouraging companies to buy new models of increasingly obsolete machinery? We need to be getting rid of gas pumps not buying new models. Why buy a frying-pan-radio when you could just have a radio in the kitchen? Especially when everyone is switching to microwaves.

  10. Getting rid of gas pumps? That’s not going to happen for decades, maybe longer. Gasoline is not going away any time soon. Even if ethanol usage increases – it uses the same pumps.

    The only reason the pumps would go away would be a switch to something like hydrogen or natural gas, which need different pumps, but that’s really not likely to happen for decades – I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime (I’m 36).

    Gas pumps tend not to last that long due to wear and tear, so they get replaced or upgraded regularly. And a lot of them already have nice screens because they use them to run ads, even video, and offer additional services like car wash purchases, etc.

    (And a microwave can’t replace a good frying pan. Some foods just don’t nuke.)

  11. This is perfect – pretend to fill up the tank and get directions, without having to ask somebody. Saves face for the MEN!

  12. I am in the crowd of having the forethought to print a map or use my smartphone.

    So for the many many people who do not have access to the stuff I mention this is helpful – but when I am stuck behind someone arguing with the spouse over directions on the gas pump – this will be DECIDELY unhelpful to me. :)