Tom Tom: Smartphones and nav devices are complementary

Mike Schramm
M. Schramm|01.12.11

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Tom Tom: Smartphones and nav devices are complementary

As one of our last appointments on the floor of CES, we went out to a meeting room way back in the back of the South Hall to talk to Tom Murray, Senior Vice President of Market Development for Tom Tom -- one of the leading companies selling navigation devices and software. We've covered Tom Tom and its products many times here on TUAW before, so it was great to finally sit down with the company and talk about their business.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Murray told me last week was that the company doesn't see the iPhone (and other smartphone devices) as competitors to its portable navigation device (PND) business. Instead, Murray sees Apple's platform and others like it as "complementary" to the traditional GPS devices that Tom Tom makes and sells. Murray did admit that the rise of smartphones has "had an impact on our core PND category," but given that Tom Tom has found success with a number of regional apps on the iOS Store, Murray says that "the iPhone has been accretive to our business."

The biggest device for Tom Tom at the show was the Go 2505m Live unit. It will arrive in April, and it will bring a number of improvements, including a service called HD Traffic, which not only pulls in information on roads all over the US generated by Tom Tom's own devices, but connects to "partner vehicles" (like delivery and fleet vehicles) to convey real-time information and accurate routing as you drive around. That service isn't on the iPhone app yet (in the US, anyway -- it is up and running in Europe, we were told), but Murray says it would be "reasonable to assume" that kind of information will eventually find its way into the company's iPhone app.

The company has also just added a feature called "MapShare" to the iPhone app, which has delivered 14 million validated user-created map updates to the service already. The company is also looking at what Murray called "multiplatform navigation" -- the idea that your smartphone could work with the navigation device in your car to trade directions back and forth. Despite all of the improvements to the iPhone app so far, Murray told us that the iPhone app's volumes for users are "a fraction of the dedicated units" -- there are still plenty more PND users on the roads out there than iPhone navigation users, according to Tom Tom.

Finally, I asked tangentially about any plans for the iPad, but Murray confirmed that in most cases, the use patterns between Apple's phones and its tablet are too different for navigation software to get involved. The biggest concern in that arena, said Murray, is safety -- Murray said that "safety is a priority" for all of the company's devices, and the iPad doesn't necessarily lend itself to safe use in the car. But all possibilities are still open, and even as other mobile markets, like Android, go on the rise, Tom Tom will keep its options open.

As I said, it was excellent to speak with a Tom Tom representative -- the company has definitely found a nice high-end place in smartphone navigation, and it's great to see the constant updates and support for the company's apps. Stay tuned for more coverage of Tom Tom's activity on the App Store.

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