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Appiphilia: TomTom navigating its way into iPhones

July 10, 2009 |  7:58 am

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A screenshot of an iPhone using the TomTom navigation app, mounted with the TomTom car kit for iPhone. Credit: TomTom Inc.

As a member of the directionally challenged community, I have been much enamored with having a device that knows where I am and where I'm going even when I don't.

Even as other GPS navigation apps have launched -- among them are  AT&T’s Navigator (free download, $9.99 monthly) and Sygic’s Mobile Maps ($79.99 for North America) -- many iPhone owners have been atwitter about the advent of a TomTom navigational iPhone app, announced at WWDC in San Francisco on June 8.

I had a chance recently to chat with Tom Murray, vice president of market development at TomTom Inc., about the anticipated app and the company's iPhone car kit. ...

First things first: No, TomTom hasn't announced pricing or an expected launch date for the app.

Here's what Murray highlighted about what the app will have:

  • -- the TomTom user interface
  • -- the latest version of Tele Atlas maps for North America and Europe, initially
  • -- IQ Routes, which calculates the fastest route based on data collected over the years from other TomTom users.
  • -- turn-by-turn directions
  • -- voice-guided navigation

Murray wasn't able to confirm whether the app would include Map Share, which lets users make and get map corrections from other users of the feature. Users may purchase additional locations, he said, but the logistics of that were still being worked out.

Users also will be able to tap into their iPhone contacts from within the app, allowing them to select a destination or starting point from a contact’s entry. TomTom for iPhone takes advantage of the device's multitouch gestures to navigate within the maps, as well.

The app will be available for purchase "later this summer" on the App Store or via WiFi, he said. But MacWorld recently wrote that due to the size of the app (about 1 gigabyte), it was unclear whether downloads via WiFi would be restricted. 

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In our chat, Murray seemed slightly more excited about the car kit -- or rather the combination of the app and the kit -- that was announced at the same time as the app. Many reporters seemed to issue a collective yawn at the thought of what might seem to be yet another iPhone holder. However, the car kit could prove more attractive and useful.

The app can work with or without the kit. Both app and kit accommodate portrait and landscape mode. The kit comes with the standard suction cup and dashboard mounts users would expect from a navigational device.

As Murray described the car kit, "but wait, there's more" seemed to be the unspoken refrain. Some of the other features include:

  • -- built-in speaker
  • -- enhanced audio -- the better to hear the directions with
  • -- microphone and Bluetooth speaker for hands-free calling
  • -- auxilliary output for connecting to and playing music through a car stereo
  • cigarette lighter adapter to power both the car kit and the iPhone (and you're wondering why you'd need to power the kit...)
  • -- GPS receiver to enhance reception

Murray said the GPS receiver built into the mount helps boost the iPhone's internal GPS, particularly when you're driving near tall buildings and other obstacles. The TomTom app uses this receiver when your iPhone is in the car kit.

A theoretical possibility -- and one Murray said TomTom is exploring -- with this kit's built-in GPS receiver is that it could potentially turn a 2G iPhone or an iPod Touch into a GPS device. Now that could make the kit more attractive to a larger community.

Although they are currently focusing on the iPhone, Murray said, "It's reasonable to assume that TomTom is open-minded to other platforms in the future."

Asked whether TomTom's push into the iPhone market was likely to distract from or cannibalize what has become its primary market -- standalone portable navigation devices -- Murray reminded that TomTom was originally founded as a software company, developing navigational software for palmtops manufactured by other companies.

It was in 2004 that TomTom saw the potential of in-auto navigation and saw a need to create -- and control -- hardware, launching the TomTom Go that year. 

In 2008, TomTom acquired Tele Atlas, which is one of two major map developers. "We recognized that demand for portable navigation devices will still be strong ... as people demand more navigation in more places," Murray said.

"At our core, however, we are still a software company," he said. "The idea is we want to make our software and mapping solutions available across platforms."

-- Michelle Maltais

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