Why is TomTom even bothering with Android?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| June 6, 2012

Over the years, the internal GPS radio found in smartphones has made navigation capabilities one of my primary, must-have features in a smartphone. And it has effectively removed the need to stow an emergency GPS in the dashboard of my car.

No matter where I am (assuming I have adequate data coverage), I can get directions to or from anywhere. I can search nearby areas for restaurants, gas stations and other establishments. And, most importantly, I can keep from being completely and entirely lost, even in unfamiliar areas. Trust me when I say there have been many times that my smartphone and its navigation capabilities have come to save the day, directing me home and away from questionable back streets in sketchy cities.

And this is one of the major reasons I primarily use Android. Smartphones powered by Google's Android operating system come with Google Maps pre-installed and an associated turn-by-turn navigation service, completely free of charge.

Android phones, however, aren't the only ones with navigation options (they're just one of the few options when it comes to adequate navigation for free). Any smartphone and even most feature phones are capable of navigation. By adding a navigation package to your wireless plan (usually $10 extra per month and powered by TeleNav), even your age-old flip phone can steer you home using global positioning satellites. So it makes sense that numerous navigation alternatives would surface as it becomes a more common mobile service.

Even premium, third-party navigation on Android make sense, so long as there is an unique advantage. For instance, Wikitude Drive, which debuted last July, uses an Android phone's camera in conjunction with augmented reality (AR) to display real life elements on the phone's display during turn-by-turn navigation. Wikitude Drive aims to take mobile navigation to the next level while cutting back on distractions by keeping users' eyes on the road, even when they're looking at their smartphone.

For the life of me, though, I cannot wrap my head around one story from this morning. Before the crack of dawn, Pocket-lint reported that popular satellite navigation company, TomTom, is preparing to launch their Android application later this year – as soon as this summer.

TomTom for iPhone has been available for nearly three years now and currently sells for $55.99. However, it makes perfect sense on iOS, an operating system that doesn't have a completely free, built-in navigation option. 

But … why Android?

One feature of TomTom that Google has yet to fully implement is offline mode. With TomTom, you can access your maps and get navigation from anywhere, without a data connection. Currently, Google Maps downloads the directions and necessary navigation information only when you call for it. Offline mode, though, is especially useful for those times you may need navigation in a spotty coverage area or when you're approaching your monthly data allowance.

However, Google held its Google Maps event earlier today and announced some new features for Google Earth and the Google Maps mobile applications. One of those key features is offline mode. (It has actually been available and fully functioning in the Labs section of Maps for Android for quite some time now.)

The Android version of TomTom will implement the existing feature set currently available on iOS, and the only additional features that aren't offered in Google Maps are a few customization options: the ability to change the navigation voice, map colors and car symbols. It's also worth noting that Google Maps does not offer real time traffic information, whereas TomTom offers TomTom HD Traffic. However, traffic services are an additional, in-app subscription service that costs $20 per year.

TomTom for Android pricing has yet to be revealed. But the iOS counterpart is available for $55.99, and from what we've learned in the past, Android applications are generally more expensive than their iOS brethren. It's unclear whether TomTom will raise the price for its Android navigation app, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.

The question is: would anyone actually buy TomTom for Android?

Peter-Frans Pauwels, TomTom co-founder, tells Pocket-lint that "iOS has been doing really well" for them. But that's a platform that doesn't offer navigation out of the box. Without offering any awe-inspiring or essential features, I have a feeling Android endeavors will be far less successful for TomTom.

Then again, there are a lot of companies out there who bank on brand recognition and the lack of product knowledge of mobile users. Verizon Wireless, for instance, still sells VZ Navigator to Android customers even though it offers very few enhancements over Google Maps built-in navigation.

What say you, ladies and gentlemen? Are you interested in TomTom's forthcoming Android app? Or do you also fail to see the significance of it in light of free Google Maps? Will you buy TomTom for Android once its available? Have you purchased any third-party navigation alternatives for your Android phone?