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Search giant Google has updated its maps.google.com website with detailed SA street maps. Previously, the system showed only major arterial routes.

The update works only from PC-based Web browsers for now, but the data will soon be available on certain mobile phones, such as Apple’s iPhone. Directions — instructions on how to get from point A to point B — are also coming soon. A source says Google had hoped to launch directions, also known as “routing”, at the end of last month but this has been delayed by a few weeks.

Google, which is known for not pre announcing new products, is playing down the update to its SA maps data. That’s in spite of the fact that local Web users have long clamoured for better local street maps from the search giant.

“It’s our practice with Google Maps to update the product incrementally, as new data and functionality become available,” says a Google SA spokesman. “That’s why you see varying levels of detail and local information, depending on which country you look at.”

There’s no word on when other Google Maps services like the popular Street View tool are coming to SA. Street View offers street-level photography so Internet users can see exactly what a particular location looks like. Street View is available for many cities in North America and Europe. A source says map data supplier Tele Atlas already has vehicles fitted with cameras on SA streets taking street-level photography, so Street View may be coming sooner rather than later.

Google has sourced its SA maps data from Avusa subsidiary MapIT, in which Tele Atlas holds a 49% stake; Avusa holds the remaining 51%.

The launch of local maps paves the way for innovative applications that take advantage of the GPS receivers in modern cellphones. For example, you could query your phone for the details and location of the Thai restaurant nearest to you, and then be given directions to get there.

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