New Zealand gets TomTom Car Navigation on iPhone first!


OK, we were only ahead of Australia by a couple of hours, but we need everything we can get. Maybe we should give some iPhones to the All Blacks to help them find the try line in the TriNations and Bledisloe on Saturday, but that’s another story. As another aside, when I wrote TriNations, my spell checker suggested ‘urinations’. We’ll let that one be too.

So this morning I got a phone call letting me know that TomTom Car Navigation is now available with GeoSmart maps, for New Zealand in the iTunes Apps Store. This is awesome news. We’ve had some routing applications available in New Zealand, but nothing with any real accuracy. Also the other apps required that you download data frequently, which means additional cost to your Telco, whereas the iPhone application has all of the maps and Points of Interest you need on the device.

The application requires OS3.0 but as I understand it, as long as you have the OS version, you can run the application on any iPhone as well as iPod Touch if you purchase the TomTom Car Kit. Neither helps me as I only have an iPod Classic and a Blackberry, but I hope to remedy that situation soon.

The car kit itself seems very cool and I hope to get the chance to try one. The car kit includes the new TomTom mount, which I really like. It also incorporates a speaker and a microphone as well as an external GPS antenna which means that you don’t have to buy the very latest iPhone with GPS and Compass (although that would be my pick right now) if you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch. The car kit also charges the iPhone when it is in the cradle.

Now the debate has begun in earnest. Why buy the iPhone App and Car Kit, when for the same price you can buy a dedicated PND (Portable Navigation Device) for the same price or maybe even less? This is a similar question to the one I get frequently, which is, what navigation unit or brand is the best? My answer is that ‘best’ is subjective. Different brands and different models currently have different features and the feature set is part of the argument that defines what is best for you.

TomTom and Navman both have new product ranges and different features relating to the user interface, functionality etc. Both brands in New Zealand have GeoSmart Maps (and if you don’t know by now, I work for GeoSmart) which are the most accurate for New Zealand. Why is not relevant for today’s blog. For example Navman now has AA Traffic and TomTom has IQ Routes (which are not the same concept, just an example).

Perhaps part of the answer is how often you travel. As I’ve said in previous blogs. your mobile is your ubiquitous device. You always have it with you. I always have car navigation in my car, but if I’m out of town (without my car) I don’t always take it with me.

The TomTom iPhone Car Kit solves another problem because you can use it as a hands free kit for your mobile. From 1 November, driving and talking on a handheld mobile will become illegal. You will either have to use a hands free kit of some sort or not use your phone at all in the car. I have stopped accepting or making any calls in the car, although I might accept important calls if I had a hands free kit. There is always a tension and anxiety around not answering calls on your mobile. People expect to be able to reach you, which causes an unpleasant feeling for both parties. So here’s a nice solution for your car.

So back to the application, this is essentially the same application as the one residing on the normal PND devices carried by your favourite consumer electronics stores. One cute thing is that on iPhone you can orient your phone to landscape or portrait and it will automatically adapt itself.

The nature of car navigation is changing and like most new technologies it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict what will happen in the near future. LBS on mobile is a given and if you search through my blogs, you will find several about mobile applications, car navigation on mobile will become common place and of course there are many situations where you would like guidance while walking, exercising, travelling in a taxi or on public transport. These are often scenarios where you want to travel light, but wouldn’t go without your mobile.

If you had asked me last year, where car navigation is going, I would have told you about ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), for which R&D has been funded by the European Governments. This was to develop systems that would reduce accidents in a number of ways, including monitoring vehicles positions in relation to the lane markings on roads, legal driving speeds, speed and distance of vehicles in front and behind you and much more. Many of the innovations for this are being developed and in some cases launched by brands as far apart as BMW and Nissan.

This system was originally going to be made mandatory in all new cars sold in Europe from 2012 and if this was still the case, it could have meant significantly reduced demand for PND’s. When I was in The Netherlands earlier this year, I was advised that the date had been dropped and the European Union were having a rethink on the subject, and particularly their ongoing commitment to funding it. They determined that it would take more than 10 years before the majority of vehicles in Europe would have this system in place and therefore the deadline wouldn’t have any immediate impact. A cynic would say that this would mean that current politicians would not get any credit within their career to justify spending time on it.

So now we have (I reiterate I haven’t tried it yet) a new system which will provide an all but identical experience to a PND on your iPhone. Of course TomTom isn’t the only mobile product available, but it is the first one being commercially sold in New Zealand. The new Android phones also have GPS and Compass and of course there are some very good Windows Mobile applications as well such as iGO8. Will there be a move away from PND’s? I doubt it, at least in the near future. Navman will certainly be hoping not.

There will be a camp that says a PND is the best device at being a PND. They said the same about PDA’s, but SmartPhones are now viable devices, even though I still have to reboot my new Blackberry Bold at least a couple of times a week. The future is going to be interesting. There are phone companies such as Nokia who showed their intention by purchasing Navteq and are planning converged devices that combine a mobile with car navigation. There are PND manufacturers who are going to be putting SIM Card slots into their car navigation devices.

The market will decide what the best is and the answer to all questions will be yes:)

I’ll leave the last word for today to TomTom.

What the HAL?


I love the way Japan and Korea are developing robotics. I used to say that the Japanese were great engineers but not that great at innovating, I think that perhaps those thoughts should be banished to the dim past.

I’ve written a few blogs on robotics, such as about the plans in Korea to have a domestic robot in every household between 2015 and 2020, ironically I mentioned HAL9000 from 2001 A Space Oddysey in that blog.

The latest innovation greeting the media this week has been the new Japanese Robot suit from Cyberdine, also called HAL, but this one is a robotic prosthesis. HAL stands for Hybrid Assistive Limb and uses the faint nerve impulses when your brain tries to control weak or damaged limbs.

This technology has been under development for several years, but it looks like it is ready or the market, as demonstrated in this video taken recently in a Japanese hospital.

What seems remarkable to me is that this robot will soon be available for purchase in Japan for a little over US$4,000! This means that these devices will be accessible for less than the cost of an average surgery and could perhaps be of major assistance to people on waiting lists for hip replacement or other limb operations.

One of the great features is that the exosceleton, if I can call it that, supports its own weight, so isn’t an extra burden on the person wearing it. This offers people with disabilities an amazing opportunty to live and do ordinary, but also extraodinary things. For example during testing 2 years ago, Seiji Uchida, a quadraplegic was able was able to climb a mountain on the back of a climber using a HAL suit.

Of course this brings in the Six Million Dollar Man question. If this is what disabled people can do, what could able bodied people achieve with one of these?

Of course the military have been working on projects like these for a long time. DARPA have for several years been working on exoskeletons that can help people carry more weight, run faster and of course have much more strength when needed.

Other scenarios where these could be used would be in civil emergencies such as earthquake rescue, where immediate strength could speed the release of people trapped under rubble.

The immediate opportunity is to alleviate suffering of people with injuries or issues such as arthritis, but there are likely to be lots of people queuing up for the opportunity to become super people, or perhaps super heroes, or of course super criminals, but I don’t want to go there.

Day to day operations of emergency services could also benefit from this technology. In the hands of fire services, police, paramedics and others, this technology could be brilliant.