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iPhone voice-based navigation gets road-ready

TomTom's voice-based, turn-by-turn navigation program is due out later this summer for the iPhone. Another company, Networks in Motion, has just released its own voice navigation program for Apple's device.
Image: TomTom GPS device
TomTom, which makes GPS devices and software, expects to have its program for the iPhone ready later this summer. No word on pricing yet.TomTom

GPS giant TomTom is creating the first major voice-based, turn-by-turn program for the iPhone, and it should be available later this summer for those who have the 3G and new 3GS models of Apple's popular device, the company says.

"We're quite keen to get the product out there," said Tom Murray, vice president of market development for TomTom.

Why the wait? Apple released its 3.0 operating system software for the iPhone June 17, but didn't make its software development kit available to those want to create applications, or "apps" for it until the week before at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Murray said.

"We want to make sure that the product takes advantage of the final version of the operating system, and that it's ready for prime time."

Many good text-based, location services and map programs, including Google Maps, were released for the iPhone last July when the 3G model, which includes a GPS chip, went on sale. But voice-based, turn-by-turn navigation programs were nowhere to be found. Apple's software development kit did not allow them.

TomTom's coming program was touted by Apple at the San Francisco conference, and it will be the first for the iPhone by a major navigation company. Others may be in the works. For those who don't want to wait, there is a voice-based app, Goviko from Networks in Motion, that was released in the past week.

Networks in Motion has released its Gokivo voice-based navigation program for iPhone, which is subscription-based at a cost of $10 a month.

The app is 99 cents, but the voice-based navigation is $9.99 a month — standard for many mobile phone navigation subscriptions. But some users thought their 99 cents should get them the voice-based navigation. 

There was some confusion about that, something the company apologized for on its blog.

"We want to clarify how our pricing for the app works … Users pay 99 cents to get access to the maps and all of the local information provided by our partner Yahoo! Local, as well as one-click access to the great discovery features in the app," Networks in Motion said.

"If you want voice guided turn-by-turn navigation to one of these destinations, there’s a different price. For $9.99 a month users get immediate access to the first and only turn-by-turn, voice guided app currently on the iPhone.

"Delivering an in-dash quality navigation experience isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap — it takes a lot of work and money to deliver all these features and functionality that’s included in a turn-by-turn navigation app; and unlike products with maps on the device, we are updating maps and search indexes constantly."

No word on TomTom pricing
TomTom isn't saying yet how much its app will cost, whether there will be a subscription fee and how much its add-on "car kit" will cost.

The car kit is not only a mount for the iPhone, but will also have a speaker, a microphone for hands-free calling and include a GPS receiver, said Murray.

"The iPhone 3G (and 3GS) has a built-in GPS receiver, but the performance that people would experience with the car kit is enhanced, and is probably much more comparable to one they would get in a dedicated portable navigation device," he said.

Does that mean an iPhone with just the TomTom app and not the car kit will be insufficient? Not so, says Murray.

"Once you download the application, you'll be able to take advantage of navigation immediately, and then you're off and running," he said.

Still to be determined, too, is the cost of map updates, something GPS users are familiar with paying for as well.

"Details, again, are to be defined" for the iPhone, Murray said. "But I presume that we'll make map updates available periodically, just as we do for our portable navigation devices' business today, on a quarterly basis. It's up to the user as to whether they want to buy it."

The move to mobile
Stand-alone GPS devices, still very popular, are finding it harder to compete with mobile phones as more and more of them include navigation capabilities. But cost is a factor.

One of the many draws of the iPhone's chief competitor, the Palm Pre, is that it includes voice-based Sprint Navigation as part of a "Simply Everything" plan that starts at $69.99 a month.

TomTom, which also owns Tele Atlas, maker of navigation maps, is best known for its devices, which represent 85 percent of the company's revenues, said Murray.

"What the iPhone initiative represents is part of a strategy whereby we make TomTom available to people across platforms," Murray said. "What we're seeing is that demand overall for navigation is continuing to grow as people become more accustomed to it, and they understand the benefits of it and they start to expect it as part of their daily lives."

Garmin, another leading manufacturer of GPS devices, has no plans for an iPhone navigation program. It's quite busy with its own smartphone, the nuvifone, a joint project with computer maker Asus.

The nuvifone is due out in United States during the second half of this year, said Garmin spokeswoman Jessica Myers. Pricing and carriers have not been set yet, she said.