New Car #5: GPS Navigation System Comparisons


This is the fifth and final article of my series on my New Car.

  1. New Car #1: Novated Leasing
  2. New Car #2: Fuel Efficiency
  3. New Car #3: Two Months In
  4. New Car #4: Good Bye Subaru Impreza
  5. New Car #5: GPS Navigation System Comparisons (this article)

When I was driving the Subaru, since it did not have an in-built GPS navigation system, I relied on my iPhone. Whilst Maps was always part of iOS from early days, it was until iOS 6 and iOS 7 that Maps was enhanced to the point of being a serious GPS contender.

Originally powered by Google Maps, in 2012, Apple finally changed the data source to its own data, enhanced by TomTom except for Chinese maps which are provided by AutoNavi.

In December 2012 I also purchased the TomTom app on the iPhone to serve as a GPS unit for use in the car. I used it to help navigate me to the Craigieburn in Melbourne’s north-west. That summer I used it for all occasions where I needed the navigational aid. It integrated well with the Bluetooth connectivity of my Pioneer sound system that had been installed in September 2012. I could listen to music on my phone which would fade out for the audio navigation instructions. This set-up worked well and enhanced my car driving experience throughout that summer. As the routine of work and study progressed in early 2013 I found the need for the GPS lessen as my driving pattern and routes stuck to familiar routes – work, church and the local shopping areas.

Whilst I had TomTom operating on my phone I did compare its performance and operation to Apple Maps and to lesser extent Google Maps – all of which were

In the Mazda 3, the in-built GPS is powered by TomTom and it comes with two years worth of free updates. The tablet size touch screen helps improve the usability and accessibility for not just the Navigation app, but all of the apps loaded. One important safety feature is that when the car is moving the screen locks out the touch capability. Instead, use of the joystick/rotary dial control and buttons become the method of interaction and selection.

The precision of the GPS and ability to accurately pinpoint the car on the maps is backed by the 6 satellites that orbit the earth – the system design ensures continual operation 24×7. The real-time information shown on-screen takes advantage of the accuracy, displaying changes in road conditions such as speed limits.

Unfortunately the traffic information is not real-time, which is a feature best implemented by Google Maps, where they collect data from Android phones to help measure traffic and speeds. Apple Maps offers a limited view of traffic, for now simply restricted to freeways and major highways.

So the first real test of the GPS was last week travelling to a wedding venue up in Mount Dandenong. Initially using the car GPS, the route only got confused when I took a wrong turn at the foothills from Boronia/Mountain Highway side. After back tracking slightly, we were back on track but then the road which indicated the shortest route became gravel for a six kilometre stretch. The time to destination measure was always very accurate and we shaved some 20 minutes off by taking the shortest route. The quickest route was an alternate route which Google Maps promoted in favour of the shortest route – the sealed road surface would have made up for the slow gravel surface driving.

Having discussed the topic of which GPS app is the best, the consensus is that Google Maps remains the most accurate. TomTom comes second and given that it powers both my Mazda 3 GPS and Apple Maps it remains my GPS simply because it is so accessible to users/drivers sitting inside a car.

Did you know that TomTom began in 1991 way before the Internet and likes of Google came along? The launch of their first navigation software was in 1996 and car navigation only became a commercially marketed product in 2001. When Google Maps was launched in 2005 it slowly chipped away at the dominance of GPS providers like TomTom, Garmin and Magellan. Whilst product growth was evident between 2009 and 2012 (see the Accenture survey image below) the growth of smartphones has eclipsed the specialist GPS devices market. At least GPS devices still experienced growth unlike digital cameras or portable music players. In part, the inclusion and use of the GPS technologies of TomTom and Garmin into cars has helped to offer a temporary buffer and provide a source of growth.


Since 2013 Google has been working on their in-car solution. This was first leaked in March 2014 by Mercedes and was dubbed Projected Mode. Around the same time Apple announced CarPlay as their version of integrating iOS devices into cars. Mercedes in particular is working with both to make their cars, starting from 2015, offer compatibility across both Android and iOS. A car-friendly version of Android known as Android Auto is also set to launch with similar time-frame. All the big name car manufacturers have been signed up to both Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Most would likely cater for the two to maximize inter-compatibility for users/drivers who have phones on the two platforms. Estimates leading up to 2020 suggest a combined 190 million customer base split 100-90 between Google-Apple.

The GPS devices market has weathered the onslaught of smartphones but has been irrevocably changed by Google and now Apple. There is still room for the original players but more so as niche products or as data suppliers to the likes of Apple (TomTom). Survival and continual growth of these original companies who gave us GPS have had to diversify but even this could be threatened by the expansion of Apple and Google into those same markets – health and fitness.

During the 1990s, GPS was definitely a niche product only available to those who could afford it. Smartphones having integrated the capability has helped to bring it to the masses, as smartphones themselves transitioned from a technology-centric market position to a more mass market product placement. This second wave of the GPS product has a good runway for further growth as a whole, and is a key enabling technology for future driver-less cars and other similar technological advances.