Korean team builds Google transit guide

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Korean team builds Google transit guide

Have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t sure which bus to take, how many stops it would take to get to your destination, or at which stop to get off?

That is a universal problem experienced by public transportation users across the globe, and there is a universal program that can be used worldwide to help solve it.

It is the Transit Navigation program that Google recently rolled out. The program is one of the components of the newest version of the Google Maps app, called Google Maps Navigation, that can be found in the Android Market, Google’s app store.

What is interesting is that the transit navigation program, currently available in a beta version, was developed by a group of Koreans.

According to industry sources, this is the first time that a program developed by Koreans has become a key offering in the Google Maps app, which is the most used map application by people around the world.

The best feature about the transit navigation program is that whether you are in Seoul, San Francisco or Tokyo, it works just fine.

It gives public transit directions in 400 cities around the globe, working as a personal navigator - showing your location along transit routes and giving alerts for when to exit public transit.

“There are many programs about transportation in the smartphone application market; this one is the only one that has overcome the boundaries between the cities and works on not just a city but the whole world,” said an official at Google Korea.

The Koreans who developed the program say they were lucky because they had “a good environment for product development” here.

They had all the right ingredients, so to speak, readily available. They explained that Korea is a fast-growing smartphone market and Seoul has a well-developed public transportation system, giving them a vast test bed on which to develop their app.

But that is not to say there were not any trials and errors.

To make sure the program was working well, the developers traveled to almost all corners of the Seoul area, they said, riding on all bus routes.

Additionally, they made numerous trips to Japan, the United States and Europe, investigating the public transportation systems and routes there.

The hard work appears to have paid off. For starters, Google headquarters in the United States has touted the app as “a program in line with our ‘Mobile First’ strategy,” referring to its focus on providing directions that promote users’ mobility. Several technology blogs and media outlets, including Engadget, have also introduced the new application on their Web sites.

“I think we were able to differentiate our program in the sea of transportation-related apps because we target the global market instead of just one specific country,” said Hong Seon-ki, the product manager of Google Korea, who led the program development team. “We hope our work helps people around the world get the public transportation information they need as easily as possible.”

The number of smartphone users in Korea, one of the world’s most digital nations, stood at 16 million in July, according to the latest government data. The figure is expected to hit 20 million by the end of this year, accounting for about 40 percent of the overall mobile market.

By Lee Soo-ki [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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