Wednesday, 15 September 2010 08:18

Tom Tom details Sat Navs of the future

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ITWire sat down with Tom Tom Australia marketing manager Nick Saisanas to go through the current range of navigation devices and touch on services for the future of the Sat Nav market.


Sattellite navigation device manufacturer Tom Tom is currently going through a refresh of its model line-up, from entry level to the more premium services found on the pricier devices in the range.

One thing that is evident is that Australians have specific device preferences, even when entering the Sat Nav market for the first time.  Tom Tom has replaced the 3.5' Tom Tom Start model with the 4.3' equipped XL250.  Throwing in the Advance Lane Guidance feature with the new device as well,  'The entry level has mainly been around 3.5', but Aussies love big screens for some reason, this SKU is mainly for someone starting out that wants a bigger screen.' Saisanas said.

Was this Aussie love of bigger screens based on sales alone?  'Totally,' says Saisanas, 'when we have launched the 4.3' screen a few years back, it was automatically the number one seller, whereas in Europe it was 3.5', and now what is kicking off is the 5' screen (XXL 540) actually, it is selling well and by Christmas we could see that as the leading SKU in Australia'

There have been some pricing shifts along with the new model releases.  The existing entry level Start Australia with 3.5' screen has dropped to AU$179.00.  Its replacement, the new XL 250 at AU$249.00.  The next model up, the XL340 at AU$299 adds a smattering of extra frills and a higher quality touch screen.  The XXL 540 at AU$329 should help Aussies with their large screen fetish as it sports a 5' display, and rounding out the range are the high end GO750 AU$399 and GO950 still listed at AU$649 but possibly about to drop in price according to Saisanas.

There are a couple of key technologies that are fitted to the Tom Tom range.  The first is IQ Routes;  'When you turn on your device we ask you whether we can collect your data anonymously, most people answer yes to that, from that point on [the Tom Tom] will track how fast you travel on each and every road.  Then, when you plug the device into your computer that feeds data back to the mainframe in Berlin. ' Saisanas said.  

From this data Tom Tom is able to calculate road speed averages at particular times of day, this is then fed back to the networked Tom Tom devices to give accurate estimation of arrival times for a variety of time dependent traffic profiles.  

'This enables our devices to predict the future,' says Saisanas 'The principle is that traffic behaves the same way the same day of the year.'   

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When asked if perhaps local weather conditions may also feed into this data to boost accuracy; 'Yeah, weather will be covered by Traffic,' Saisanas said 'In Europe we have a high definition traffic solution, it is something we are looking at here, but currently what that technology does is it uses mobile phones.  We have partnered with Vodaphone in some of our countries, we determine how many phones are on the road, and from that we can predict the traffic conditions, and then we layer that on top of the navigation.'

IQ Routes is not a new feature, having been around for some eighteen months, but it is improving with age as more iQ Route enable devices are hitting Australian roads.  As such Tom Tom is putting a concentrated effort into further employing the feature.

'We are finding things like, people driving somewhere fifty times a week on a road that is actually not on the map, we feed that back to the map provider.  Another application is we are selling the data to advertisers who want to know how long cars are sitting at a particular billboard.' said Saisanas.

The other technology focus is on the map community functionality feature named Map Share, Saisanas explains;  'On your device, if you see something, say a temporary road blockage for a couple of months, or you know it is an error on the map, maybe a one way street is actually two way.  You can basically fix that on your device for yourself, no other devices can do that.  You connect to the computer; we have a checking process, and then distribute your local change to the Tom Tom guidance community.'

'We are really proud of this,' says Saisanas 'Say a new highway has been built, the Whereis map which we release every three months, might not have considered that, it might have been day three of the 'three months'.  We can actually go on and change it with Map Share right away, without this technology you would have to wait up to three months for the new map to come out to show that structural change.'

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Tom Tom are heavily investing in maps technology, acquiring one of two major players in the field last year  'We bought Tele Atlas,' says Saisanas ' We sell our maps to Google for their own Google Maps feature'  

On that, and despite having a popular iPhone app itself, was Tom Tom concerned about the rise in smartphone navigation units stealing market share.  'It's like when phones started to have cameras built in,' says Saisanas 'Everybody still bought digital cameras, it is the same in navigation, a stand-alone device will still be superior to a device that has to pull information from a network'

He continued; 'We created our own cardock, because everybody was worried about how good the iPhone's GPS system really was, it has its own GPS chip in the dock to boost the signal, so that the iPhone becomes a proper navigation device'

'The phone app is really good for when you are on the go, like anything, you do email on the go, you do your web browsing on the go, and it is the same when I am sitting in the passenger seat and someone doesn't know where to go, I'll get my app out and direct the way, because you have your phone on you all the time'

In Europe, Renault now doing in-car navigation using Tom Tom branded software.  Apparently this has been a bug-bear of car owners unable to distinguish the pedigree of in-dash navigation software.  In Australia Renault has introduced the branding in the Koleos and the software will be soon coming to the Clio model as well.

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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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