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TomTom to help Siri with her sense of direction

June 12, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • Navigation services company TomTom is integrated in the new iOS 6 Maps app. It also has its own stand-alone app.
Navigation services company TomTom is integrated in the new iOS 6 Maps app.… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

The idea of Siri giving directions in the upcoming iOS 6 Maps app that's replacing the native Google Maps app didn't elicit even a "woo-hoo" from me since my confidence in her wisdom wavers every time she can't figure out a simple request. And, frankly, in L.A. traffic, there's no room for an argument with your phone.

Typically, to get around, I have used a blend of the Google Maps app for a quick look at the route and the traffic and the TomTom app for eyes-free navigational help.

Dutch navigation services company TomTom announced on Tuesday that it "has signed a global agreement with Apple for maps and related information." TomTom has not yet replied to our query.

"Details are scarce about the Apple-TomTom deal, and it is difficult to know if this is only a licensing deal based on data maps (leveraging here TomTom’s TeleAtlas acquisition)," Thomas Husson, consumer product strategy analyst for Forrester Research, wrote to The Times.

Well, with TomTom behind Siri's street smarts, I'd actually let her serve as copilot. Although no further details were provided, you can look at the services that TomTom offers to get a sense of how smart she could be.

TomTom offers routing based on speed data collected from millions of users to figure out the travel time of your route, accounting for time of day, traffic lights and rush hour patterns, for example. That plus its traffic reporting could enhance the app's navigational offerings. It will be interesting to see through the Privacy setting whether our iPhone will be contributing to the collective route knowledge.

If the new native app brings over TomTom's lane guidance, that'd be a coup. It's exceptionally useful when you have to glance at the screen. Heck, just being able to view the map in either portrait or landscape mode would be an upgrade.

Now I concede this isn't likely, but the one thing I wish the new iOS 6 Maps would offer that TomTom has is different voices. I'm not that into Siri chatting me up about anything, frankly, but I wouldn't mind having Darth Vader tell me how to get to the Getty.

One thing that Google's Maps app has done better than TomTom is leave the decision-making to the user. Google has offered  great at-a-glance information about the roadways, and it gives you the route options up front, rather than just choosing one for you.

Because TomTom has its own pricey ($50) offering in the App Store with subscription services available, I'd be willing to bet that many of the premium offerings won't be in the free native app to keep from cannibalizing its own app audience.

"Stand-alone navigation apps from the likes of TomTom or Navigon have always been among the most profitable apps after games in app stores," Husson said.  "However, we’re discussing a couple of million euro."

In this arrangement with Apple, he said, "TomTom is likely to get a very small fee per activated data map plus some potential revenue sharing on ads – even though location-based advertising is still a very nascent market."

In terms of who wins in this partnership, Husson said, "Apple finds a way to be less dependent from Google, to offer its own mapping and navigation services, but most importantly to offer developers the ability to develop more integrated and contextualized services for iOS devices. Google will stop benefiting from the traffic generated by future devices launching with native Apple Maps."

I'd say regardless of who is driving the app, iPhone users -- and fellow drivers -- win. Staring down at the current map that you have to tap through or a list of turn-by-turn directions was never my favorite way to travel. I kept waiting to get pulled over or die because my eyes are on a small screen and not the road.

Having turn-by-turn directions in the iOS 6 Maps will literally be a life saver.


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