TomTom has been in the GPS device market for over 20 years already, but much like everybody else these days, they’ve also launched GPS apps for iOS. Most recently (and perhaps most controversially), they’ve also signed a deal with Apple to provide data for the Cupertino corp’s new Maps app, released with iOS 6.
TomTom’s app features everything you’d expect to find in a premium GPS app, including turn-by-turn voice directions, multi-stop route planning and default route editing, speed tracking and (fixed) speed camera alerts, audio output to Bluetooth A2DP car kits, departure reminders, and travel time estimations, as well as Foursquare and Facebook integration for points of interest and event destinations.
The app comes pre-installed with maps covering South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland only.
Much like a handheld GPS device, the app uses a GPS satellite signal so no mobile connectivity is required, which makes this a more reliable option for those people who like to take the roads less travelled.
Getting from A to B
After a bit of initial setup, the app acquired a GPS signal in just several seconds. It then proceeded – quite unprompted – to inform me how to get to my flat, from inside my flat, by suggesting I turn right, then turn right.
So I closed the app. About five minutes later, a voice emanated from my iPhone, telling me I should turn left, then fifty yards later, turn right. I never did work out exactly where the app was trying to get me, but I did switch over to the metric system. A minute or two later, my iPhone cheerfully informed me that I’d reached my destination, so that was… nice?
Later, I decided to take the app for a proper test drive.
I live in Kenilworth, in the Cape Town southern suburbs, and I attempted to enter a destination in Table View, in the northern suburbs. The app was unable to find the location. After about ten minutes of entering various permutations of the street address, I discovered that, according to TomTom, Table View is in fact an entirely different city in the Western Province.
A whole lifetime of egregious misapprehension thus resolved and a convenient route plotted, my TomTom app and I hit the road. That’s when my iPhone’s battery started depleting fast. A 15km trip (around 25 minutes in moderate traffic) consumed about 10 percent of the phone’s battery. It’s not exactly rocket science that an app like this is going to pull a lot of battery power, but the obvious problem is that unless you have a car charging kit, this makes it extremely impractical for any long distance trips.
About halfway to my destination, I decided to alter my route and take a different road, and the app recalculated a new route within moments. Somewhat less accurately, however, the app reported incorrect speed limits for some sections of the M5 freeway, warning me that I was exceeding these when I wasn’t. This is perhaps excusable for smaller, suburban areas where speed limits can change according to the prevailing wind direction and economic climate, but the M5? Not so much.
The TomTom app for iOS works well enough (with a bit of jiggering, anyway), but with the abundance of free GPS/navigation apps currently available for smartphones – including Apple Maps and Google Maps – is it worth paying $59.99 for it? Maybe if it were a lot cheaper, I’d say yes, but with that pricetag, it’s hard to recommend it over those free apps already available.
While Apple Maps and Google Maps may lack some of the features of TomTom’s app, those features aren’t really indispensable. Local data costs aren’t what they used to be, and the couple of kilobytes used to update your current position on Google Maps might add up to $59.99 in five years. Or ten. I mean, most people can plan a route at home without needing up-to-the-second reminders of where they are and where they’re going.
TomTom has developed a decent app, but it’s also mostly irrelevant. It’s a cost-effective solution for anybody looking to do the occasional off-road adventure that doesn’t quite justify a R3,000+ GPS device purchase, but for everybody else, it’s simply not worth it.