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Fast Forward: TomTom and Navigon Get Lost on the iPhone

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By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Did the developers get lost along the way? You might want to ask that after spending time with new turn-by-by-turn iPhone navigation programs from TomTom and Navigon.

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These two started out with the right ideas: Unlike the iPhone's Maps software, these programs update themselves to show your current position and display the next turn -- and since each includes a full set of maps for the United States and Canada, they work when AT&T's coverage doesn't. But these applications wind up costing too much, doing too little and often doing it badly.

Start with TomTom's self-titled $99.99 program (http://iphone.tomtom.com). For that price, you could buy a complete GPS unit from TomTom -- including the car-kit windshield mount and charger that TomTom somehow hasn't shipped yet for the iPhone.

However you secure an iPhone in a car (I used duct tape before obtaining a third-party windshield mount), the TomTom application is at least easy to start using. Its home screen presents a simple list of options, labeled with large type and legible icons, that you should have no trouble operating at arm's length.

You can also continue to use the iPhone as an iPhone while the TomTom program is active. The software mutes music playback when it reads out the next direction. If somebody calls, the application resumes working several seconds after you hang up.

But the TomTom app's inability to find street addresses listed in the iPhone's contacts program -- it kept saying "The address given for this contact can't be understood"-- made selecting a destination a huge annoyance.

Once you've tapped out an address (or selected a point of interest by searching in the TomTom application's database), TomTom offers some thoughtful routing options. For instance, you can remove a specific street from your itinerary or add an intermediate stop with a few taps of the screen.

But the program falls down yet again once you're on the road -- it won't speak a street's name, instead offering vague directions to the effect of "turn right in 300 yards." The software also fails to use the iPhone's Internet connection to look up traffic reports and route you around congestion.

TomTom's navigation could stand some debugging, too -- it suggested I take the Clara Barton Parkway to get from Montgomery County's portion of the Beltway to Rosslyn. But Amsterdam-based TomTom hasn't even announced how much map-data updates will cost.

You can request pedestrian and bicycle directions if you select a deeply buried menu option, but don't bother. TomTom suggested I bike from my home to The Post's offices by taking the Whitehurst Freeway, then added three blocks to a walking route because it had no concept of using the sidewalk on a one-way street.

Navigon's MobileNavigator (http://navigon.com/iphone), $69.99 until Aug. 31 and then $99.99, avoids some of TomTom's errors but commits a few of its own. Its home screen is even simpler than the TomTom's, but its subsequent menus feature too many small-type items. It also took about twice as long as its competitor to resume working after a phone call.

Navigon, unlike TomTom, had no problem looking up people or a company from the iPhone's contacts list. But searching for points of interest required tapping through a long series of categories before typing in a query.


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