GPS is becoming ever more prevalent in our lives -- the cost of a handheld unit has plummeted in recent years, more and more cellphones are coming with GPS built-in, and millions and millions of new cars ship with integrated nav units. So it seemed like a good time to sit down with Jocelyn Vigreux, the president of TomTom USA. He chatted with us about the company's recently-introduced MapShare feature, the new TomTom GO 720, and whether or not standalone GPS devices have a future.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon. Tell me about MapShare.


Well, MapShare is a technology that TomTom is introducing that allows TomTom users to dynamically change map attributes directly on their device. There are five or six things that you can do right now. One is to offer block-by-block traffic directions for a given street; it's also possible to reverse traffic direction for a given street., change the name of a street, edit POI's by changing their position, changing their names, or changing a phone number.

This is something that's looking at navigation from just a step ahead. It's kind of Navigation 2.0. It is really empowering to users to create better maps. The second part of this, which brings all the power to this feature, is being able to not only share this with the community of TomTom users out there -- so I will be sharing my changes, I will be sharing what I have done on my device -- but I'll also be able to take advantage of what the rest of the community all around the world has done.
Are people collaboratively editing maps, or is it that each user creates their own set of changes but they're not applied globally?

It's all of the above. And that's exactly what it is. What you see is that every user can make their own changes, and can choose to trust all the changes made by other people. We'll get into two important questions, like verification and validation of changes, and also the level of trust that the user can actually choose as far as all these changes are concerned. So validation we will get from the community. We will get a lot of changes, and TomTom will do some validation and we'll stamp some of those changes.

The way you should look at this collaborative, community-driven feature is very much the same way you would look at a forum or a chat room. In every forum, in every chat room, you have a moderator. You also have the old timers; you've got the guys or gals with tens of thousands of posts. You know they're there, you know they're reliable, you know they've done their homework before posting anything. And you've got that all the way down to the newbies.

If you keep that comparison and adapt it to what we're doing here, the moderator would be TomTom. And whatever is TomTom-approved has been verified. TomTom will also find that a large part of its community is actually people who are going to report to us map changes that are perfectly good and that we can verify, that we can validate. There will be those users who are going to send us a lot of really high quality stuff, and these people will be the trusted people. There will be changes made by many people and ultimitaly you have the end user of that new modified map who can decide what level of trust they're giving. So you can trust everybody. Or you can trust just yourself and TomTom.

What happens when information conflicts? What if you trust everyone and then someone's changes conflict with someone else's?

Well, in this particular situation, there will be one set of information will trump the other and the referee on this stuff will be TomTom. But you can actually dial up or down the trust that you have with all those changes made. What is important to also know is that you'll always have the opportunity to go back to ground zero. You will always have the opportunity to just ditch everything, or get back to only what is trusted and what has been verified by TomTom.

Is MapShare going to allow users to do something like create a map of all their favorite bookstores in Boston? Or is it really just about updates and corrections?

I think what you're mentioning is very important. It's about communities and I think that is the point here. I very firmly that this will be the start of very active communities around navigation, and that they will just appear the same way as other communities have appeared around technological platforms.

Some of these communities will be moderated or will be under the direction of TomTom and controlled and some won't. And I think that's great, it's extremely dynamic and this is what this world is about. It's about communities forming around like interests.

If I wanted to create a map MapShare that showed where every good record store in New York is, I could upload that and someone else could grab that? Or is that something that isn't available yet?

This is something that is available in a different way. The purpose of MapShare is to provide users the best maps. That's the promise. It is to provide TomTom users the best maps.

So the goal is to make maps more accurate?


More accurate, yes. This is it exactly, but today it is already possible to add POI's. I think the release of the new GO 720 and the release of MapShare are both very important milestones in the navigation world. Being able to offer TomTom users the possibility of updating their maps and their experience is extremely powerful. I actually think we'll bring the navigation business to a whole new world, to a whole new paradigm.

What is important to know about the GO 720 is what we've done around safety. One of the most powerful feature of the enhanced safety feature that we've put in the GO 720 is its ability to generate "Where am I?" statements in plain English. Even in a situation where you have to talk to a 911 dispatcher you can locate yourself with extreme accuracy. You'll just have to hit a button and this statement will appear, like "I am on Interstate 90 eastbound, between this exit and this exit, two thousand yards from this exit, 5 thousand yards from that exit." That will allow someone who potentially could be in a panic or in a dire situation to provide their current position to a 911 dispatcher.

It will also give you access to the closest hospital, to the closest car repair. I feel that there is some actual potential for making a situation much better, much more bearable, and to potentially save the day in case of a dire situation. I think it's important to look at navigation as an instrument, as a tool for enhancing safety.

The GO 720 has the ability to enhance safety, but it also hasn't lost itself. The design is a step forward, it's very slick, it has all of those great TomTom features, like the ability to record your own voice. You can have your significant other or your daughter or son or even a complete stranger give you directions.

This is one of the advantages of being the first to offer built-in hands-free calling on a navigation device. Now we've got all of this experience to make it even better. And I think a lot of work has been done to make the hands free calling experience better than its ever been. So I think I think this is kind of the first product of a new era of navigation of navigation devices and of personalized navigation experience. And again you can change the little icon of your car; you can actually put your own car in there.

We've talked about being able to personalize your own voice, about be able to transfer and to listen to music and see pictures and so on and so forth. Everything that you would expect from a device like that. Another point that we should not forget is that MapShare is just a first step. There's more that is available to the community than what I just mentioned earlier. There is that dynamic change which is a brand new feature, but also you will be able to generate reports directly on the device about new streets, for instance. You can give information about a street which is not necessarily in the map set because it's brand new -- this is something that no device was ever able to do in the past.

How does MapShare affect your relationship with Tele Atlas, which provides your map data? Are they going to use any of the data you're collecting to update their future maps or databases?

I can't really comment on what is going to happen with the data that we gather, but it has no reason to change our relationship with Tele Atlas. I think that the map sets from Tele Atlas and from NAVTEQ are of excellent quality, we actually do business with both map providers.

It seems like with MapShare you're introducing the idea of the GPS unit, even if it requires syncing with a PC, as a device where information goes two ways. It seems like the natural extension of that is for the device to have wireless capability beyond just Bluetooth and to be able to directly access the internet. Dash is introducing a connected GPS navigation device, how does this sort of thing fit into TomTom's future plans?

Connected devices are no secret for TomTom. We've had Bluetooth, and we've also been connecting our devices to receive traffic data for a long time. This is not new to us. Product connectivity is not a big secret for us and I think that there is room in the future for connected devices.

But what is the TomTom vision for this, where do you see it going? What's the big picture for GPS devices when they start to have a wireless broadband connections built-in?

Well, I eventually think that geographical search should be possible on a connected navigation device. The imagination is the limit at that point. Once you're connected, if you can harness the power of a community. Again think back about features that TomTom has already put in the device, like what have we done with our buddy finding features. There's a lot of things like that that can be done in the backend with a connected device. At the end of the day the user will tell us what they want to do with this, as long as we give them the technology.

What do you think is the future of standalone GPS devices because now that we're starting to see true GPS receivers putting into more mobile handsets and more GPS devices integrated into the dashboard systems of cars themselves? Where do standalone handheld GPS units fit in?

Today the standalone GPS solution is certainly getting the preference of the user. There is something which is not to be forgotten, which is that there are millions of devices being sold and used for navigation on the standard GPS.

But do you think that even in automobiles consumers are expressing a preference for standalones over integrated units?

Certainly.

Why do you think that is?

I think there's a great question. I think there's a great price difference between the two technologies and I think that by and large, the feature set that is offered in standalone devices is actually superior to that of a lot of built-in solutions. That's what I think, that's what I think is happening. And it's just mathematically true. If you look at the number of new cars sold every year, less than 10% of those come with navigation, which creates for a market of 90% of new cars without navigation devices.

But don't you think eventually that gap will start to close?

Yes, of course. I think we need to weigh our words here, eventually what is -- and this is the billion-dollar question – but I can tell you that I don't think it's [as soon as] five years. Again, if you look at the very simple math on the actual take-up rate, 90% of new cars today are still coming out without navigation. And at the same time, the PND [Personal Navigation Device] business is flourishing and is actually exploding. So I think that the PND business has a tremendously bright future in front of it. I think that a company like TomTom should also be looking at working and introducing navigation into vehicles. TomTom was the first navigation company to release a built-in device with a removable navigation piece in it.

How do you think the mobile handset market figures in to all of this, because even here in the US we're starting to see handsets with true GPS receivers. Do you think that some consumers who might have purchased a PND now won't because they've discovered that their phone has GPS built-into it?

I don't think so; I don't think that's it. I still remain very confident that the user experience of navigation with a personal navigation device like the Go 720 is always going to be significantly better than on the phone. And I think that the mere fact of not relying on the network for instance is a significant plus. Having more real estate on the screen to enter data and so on and so forth is a plus. When you're looking at a handset, you've got a 12 button UI, you've got a 240 x 240 pixel square screen, it's really difficult to do any real navigation. Now is there room for phone-based applications for local search? Yes. I see no reason why not.

In the past year or two we've seen a flood of very inexpensive Chinese manufactured GPS. Is that starting to depress margins? Are they having any impact on marketshare here or in Asia or in Europe?

So far the market has not been tremendously changed. What we're also seeing is that the American consumer is looking for quality, and if you look at average price points and what are the volume products in this business, we're still talking about A-brands, we're still talking about price points of $299.00 and up. At the end of the day, you can't fool the public. Someone who purchased a below standard navigation device will return it. It's one of these things, and for a brand like TomTom, [quality] should be a relentless focus. What I know is that I am offering an untouchable user experience with navigation. And that's it.

If you look at if you look at history, our success was built on having good products; our success was built on having appropriately priced, good products. The TomTom One, for instance, is an entry-level product that is also the world's best selling product, and there's a reason for that.

So is this [price pressure from Chinese manufacturers] happening? Am I denying what you're telling me? No. But by the same token, I'm extremely confident that TomTom will be able to and is able to offer products at the right price point and with the right feature set. And at the end of the day the consumer will choose, and the consumer has made TomTom the world's largest navigation company. That's a fact.

Thanks for your time!

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