If I had a dollar for each time I get asked this question I would be able to retire. I have blogged about this before, but it is certainly time for an update, particularly with some of the stories I’ve seen in the media recently, which have either been advertorial or blaming GPS for sending people off the road.
Some people see car navigation as a cool toy, or think that they are all pretty much the same. Instead think about what you need it for. Going skiing? Picking up the kids from somewhere you haven’t been before on a wet, dark winters evening? Trying to get to an important business meeting on time, finding your hotel or the nearest ATM? Are you a geek, or do you need something that is basic and easy to use?
Car navigation today offers a myriad of options from mobile smartphone applications through PND (Portable Navigation Devices) to in-car devices that are factory installed. The most important things to look at are the currency and accuracy of the map data and points of interest information. It doesn’t matter how cool it is if the information is inaccurate or out of date.
NZ Automobile Association subsidiary GeoSmart has a NZ based team driving and updating maps full-time with 4 major updates every year for a number of car navigation brands, and maps roads to sub .5 meter accuracy. Have you ever been told to go to the nearest road when you are on it? This includes important things like having accurate speed zones to warn you when you are over the speed limit, school zones, current Points of Interest and safety cameras.
Traffic congestion is here to stay and it’s not just in the cities. Real time traffic is a powerful navigation tool to find alternate routes when available and with brands such as TomTom offering HD Traffic in connected devices (PND, iPhone and iPad, and in-car systems), real-time traffic is available throughout all of New Zealand where you can receive a mobile phone signal.
Whilst traffic is a major urban problem, this winter has already seen hundreds of road closures due to slips, accidents, flooding and more, most of them outside the major cities. Many people don’t think outside of the city until they get stuck.
When there is a weather bomb the AA Roadwatch website can have up to 100,000 page views in a day and that’s before people even get in their cars. Some brands and devices only offer traffic information via RDS-TMC broadcast radio in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, which has limited capacity for the amount of information it can send due to bandwidth restrictions and of course if you are driving outside of those cities, it can’t help you.
This technology was launched in NZ by GeoSmart back in 2006, but now they can stream live traffic and congestion data every two minutes across all of NZ via a mobile network, this means that you are fully informed of the road conditions for some 97% of the road network of NZ.
When people ask what is the best GPS, there is no correct answer. There are many great products and it comes down to when and where you want to use them and what information matters to you.
They start with ‘free’ products on Smartphones. These may provide routing, but are unlikely to have information such as speed zones, lane guidance, turn restrictions or have the latest map data. They generally don’t have the maps loaded into the phone which means that every single map image and set of instructions has to be downloaded as you go and this can add up to a significant cost on your mobile data account. Recent research in Europe has shown that often adding the data costs result in ‘free’ being much more expensive than buying an app or a device where the maps are stored locally.
There are paid apps for Smartphones and tablets including products such as Metroview NZ City Maps which gives you one NZ city or region for $9.95 with full car navigation and the maps on your device, to TomTom which offers effectively the same experience as you would get on a TomTom device, even with real-time traffic, funny voices and even social media location-based apps. Obviously a benefit of a mobile app is that your mobile is always with you and you don’t need to have multiple devices.
There has been a price war in recent times with portable devices and you can purchase devices from as little as $100. Keep in mind that generally you get what you pay for. To put a device out at really cheap prices, something has to be sacrificed. Some products state that they will give you “up to” 4 map updates a year (which could mean just one) where others will “guarantee” 4 map updates per year. Are they up to date with changes such as speed zones, new roads, State Highway realignment, the Auckland SH1 tunnel and viaduct switch, new suburbs and subdivisions?
On the matter of updates, how do you get them? How easy are they to install?
Try the device in-store with roads you know have changed. Entry level doesn’t have to mean inferior but it pays to understand what you need from it. We are also starting to see larger screens on portable devices up to 6 inches, which is great for trucks or people with poor eyesight.
The future of car navigation is a connected device, whether it is a mobile smartphone, a PND that contains a SIM card and is always connected, with the ability to do location-based search, social media and location-based check-ins and look for live car park availability, entertainment and events, or a device that comes factory fitted in your car, also has a SIM card and has the ability to tell emergency services that you have had an air bag deployment and can provide your location.
This market is evolving all the time. Next time you look at buying a nav unit or application, think about the last time you needed help. Were you in a hurry? Did you get stuck in traffic? Do you travel outside of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch? Think about an area that you know has changed recently, for example the Victoria Park Viaduct over-bridges southbound or the tunnel going north. When the Wellington Street on-ramp is open again onto the Northern Motorway, would you like to know about it? Have you arrived at a motorway on-ramp only to find it is closed for maintenance? How did you feel? Did it matter? Did you know how to get to another ramp that was open?
GPS units aren’t all equal. Try a unit before you buy. Don’t just read what it says on the packaging (or at least read the fine print carefully), ask someone who has one if they would buy the same product again. It’s not just about the money, it’s about the freedom to go wherever you want via the best route at that specific point in time, to be able to relax and enjoy a stress free journey.
Do you have a car nav story? Did it help you on a trip? Are you happy with your purchase?