City drivers will not be lost in translation as Google rolls out a trilingual voice-command function for Hong Kong's Google Maps, enabling people to navigate streets with a smartphone.
Drivers can now "speak" to the app in English, Cantonese and Putonghua. Australia, Japan, India, and, as of a few weeks ago, the mainland, already have the voice-command system.
After opening the app, drivers can tell the phone where they are heading, prompting Google Maps to guide them to their destination. On request, shops, restaurants and petrol stations can be shown en route. But only phones powered by Google's Android operating system - not Windows or iOS - can access the satellite-navigation function, according to Philip Chan Ho-cheong, general manager of Google Hong Kong.
"Eventually it is hoped that all phones can share the platform," Chan said at yesterday's launch, without specifying a timetable.
The maps display "real-time traffic information" - which helps users choose the quickest or best route based on local road conditions.
The feature, which the company introduced this year, shows the level of traffic congestion using different colours on the map.
Ben Luk Kun-shing, Google's technical lead manager, said the information used in the function was not derived from the Transport Department, but gathered by analysing how fast Google Maps users on that particular road moved: the slower the speed, the more likely a traffic jam exists.
Google Maps encountered a setback in September when Apple dropped it as the default map tool in the iPhone 5 and replaced it with Apple Maps.
However, Apple Maps has met with huge criticism following worldwide revelations of geographical errors and missing information.
Apple CEO Tim Cook eventually apologised to users for its map software and even steered customers towards third-party apps, including Google Maps.
Other map applications include Bing, MapQuest and Waze. Mobile-phone maker Nokia has a map function downloadable by users of other phones.