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TomTom, Navigon iPhone GPS Apps Seem Lost

I guess I was a little too optimistic. Back in April, when I tried out a TomTom GPS receiver that used a wireless-data modem to fetch traffic data, look up nearby gas prices and find local establishments, I expected that we'd soon see something better. And when in June, Apple talked about how its new iPhone OS 3.0 software would allow developers to built turn-by-turn navigation software--then demonstrated one such program by TomTom -- I figured that next better thing would soon be ready to try.


As you can read in today's column, things haven't quite worked out that way. The $99.99 TomTom app (pictured at right) offered a clean interface but otherwise turned out to be overpriced and deeply buggy, while Navigon's $69.99-through-Aug. 31 MobileNavigator (below) suffered from some puzzling design decisions and a sometimes-busy interface and wasn't too cheap, either.

And neither company will say what future map updates will cost, leaving users to guess about the long-term value of each program. That's no way to treat a customer. TomTom further hurt its cause by refusing to offer any hints about upcoming improvements to the application; I couldn't even get a spokesman to swing at a softball question like "will you add text-to-speech so the app can speak street names?" Navigon, to its credit, is at least trying to get customers interested in what's coming next -- for example, you can get a glimpse of the features in its next software update in this German-language slideshow. (One possibly relevant factor: Back in May, Navigon announced that it would stop selling GPS units in North America, so software is all it's got.)


Sadly, TomTom and Navigon aren't the only vendors that appear to be confused by this category of software. I briefly tried a third iPhone turn-by-turn application, Sygic's $39.99 Mobile Maps, and saw some of the same problems -- plus, this program completely ignores the iPhone's address book.

Other critics haven't been too impressed the current crop of turn-by-turn iPhone programs either -- see, for instance, USA Today columnist Ed Baig's evaluation of the Navigon program, C|Net writer Dong Ngo's test of the TomTom software, and this comparison of the TomTom, Navigon and Sygic applications by the Los Angeles Times' Michelle Maltais.

So what comes next? I expect that all of these programs will add complete text-to-speech capability soon, or they'll plummet to the bottom of the App Store's rankings. Live traffic data can't be far away either, considering the obvious utility of that feature and the relative ease of providing it on a device with a built-in Internet connection. I also think these prices will drop by a large margin as competitors join this market -- though at the same time, I suspect we'll see software-plus-car-kit bundling deals, since the high power consumption of GPS applications makes a car charger mandatory on any long drive.

What do you see coming next in smart phone navigation software? Share your thoughts in the comments. Then join me during my Web chat at noon today, where we can chat about this review and any other tech topics you've got on your mind.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 21, 2009; 11:04 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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Next: Apple's Snow Leopard Ships Aug. 28


My question is: How hard is it to read that damn tiny screen when you're driving? Especially in traffic?

Posted by: wiredog | August 21, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I like my full size TomTom fine, just the way it is.

Now keeping it stuck to the windshield is another matter, but at least its big enough to see meaningfully.

a-men already.

Posted by: | August 22, 2009 3:16 AM | Report abuse

It's really a good function.
Commented by: iphone

Posted by: softwaresoda168 | August 24, 2009 4:53 AM | Report abuse

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