It’s been slow arriving here, but TomTom International’s latest navigation service will soon be available to Canadian drivers hoping to get through traffic a lot faster.
TomTom, a Dutch compay known for its dashboard mounted GPS navigation devices for cars, is scheduled to release its new HD Traffic service to the Canadian market in a few weeks. It’s already been introduced in 22 other countries so far, including the U.S. and U.K.
“Traffic is one of those things that’s almost unavoidable. We’re working very hard to make it manageable and (help drivers) avoid traffic overall,” TomTom Inc. president Tim Roper said at a Toronto launch event on Tuesday.
HD Traffic is available through a new dashboard mounted hardware device that sports a five-inch touch screen. (HD Traffic service isn’t available on TomTom’s older GPS models, so you have to go out and buy the company’s brand new in-car device in order to tap into all the upgraded features.) While the older models were powered by plugging into a vehicle’s cigarette lighter, HD Traffic devices are completely wireless (they will run on the Rogers Communication’s wireless network in Canada). Aside from being wireless, the biggest differences between TomTom’s previous GPS models and HD Traffic are accuracy and speed, Roper said.
“We have a lot more coverage,” he said, since HD Traffic uses traffic data from 1.1 million roadways versus 90,000 kms with previous TomTom versions.
The traffic data is collected from a combination of sources. For instance, in Europe, 80 million mobile phone signals used by drivers in their cars, one million TomTom GPS devices already being used in vehicles and various government, emergency, public transportation and road maintenance agencies provide data to HD Taffic. In North America, traffic data is collected from sources such as TomTom LIVE devices, connected TomTom apps, fleets, historical data and real-time incident data.
HD Traffic provides updated traffic information 30 times an hour (or every two minutes), up from just four times per hour (every 15 minutes) with the previous TomTom system.
To increase its data collection coverage area, TomTom contracted delivery and other commercial fleets across North America to use its systems in their vehicles, which now number in the “hundreds of thousands,” Roper said, explaining that some of the contracts were contra or gift-in-kind deals that didn’t necessarily amount to TomTom paying the fleets to adopt the new device.
The new system can also suggest the fastest route to take based on historical drive times for past car trips taken by each user. If it usually takes a user longer to drive one specific route on Mondays than it does on Tuesdays, for example, the system will recommend faster alternate routes based on what day of the week you depart. Using historical data collected, users can also determine by which time of the day is best to start their trip.
Although automatic data collection has raised red flags around user privacy, especially with smartphones, HD Traffic only tracks how fast a user’s vehicle is going, the total trip duration, and where the car started and ended for each journey, but never traces the user’s actual identity.
The new system comes with integrated third party Web services such as Expedia, Trip Advisor and Yelp, useful for drivers on out-of-town trips who want help finding local restaurants, booking hotel accommodations or checking flight prices. (Some of these features can be voice activated for driver safety, while others should be used before starting the car to avoid distracted driving and fines in some jurisdictions where it’s illegal to use a mobile device while driving. Every Canadian province and territory will have some sort of “driving and device” law in effect as of Jan. 1, 2012.)
HD Traffic even has a Twitter feature to send out pre-programmed tweets updating your Twitter followers on your ETA as you drive along.
HD Traffic will be sold as an in-car dashboard device for $269 including a one-year subscription for the traffic data service. A full year subscription renewal will cost $59. You can also get the HD Traffic iPhone app for $19.99 a year, but it doesn’t come with all the features of the in-car device, like Yelp and some other Web-based services. Apps for Android and iPad are forthcoming. TomTom has inked agreements with OEMs to build HD Traffic into some vehicle models, including Renault, Puegeot, Mazda, Fiat and Toyota “but none of the big American carmakers yet,” Roper said.
Although most of TomTom’s 40 million global navigation system users are consumers, the company’s traffic solutions are just as applicable to enterprise clients, specifically SMBs, Roper said.
“We also provide tracing and tracking information to small business owners. They can actually learn where their fleet is immediately, they can look at how fast their fleet is driving, they can (check) if the vehicle is in the correct location,” Roper said.
“By far our biggest business worldwide is consumer…But the fleet business I can tell you has grown very, very strongly year over year. It’s actually probably one of our largest growth businesses going forward.”
Since many governments around the world see cutting gridlock as a way to go green and improve overall economic productivity, some government officials in the U.S. and Europe have talked to TomTom about the idea of providing government subsidies towards encouraging the purchase of services like HD Traffic among residents, Roper said.
Though TomTom says HD Traffic can cut driver trip times by up to 15 per cent, market penetration of the system hasn’t been swift so far. At the Frankfurt International Motor Show last month, TomTom CEO Harold Goddjin said customer awareness of HD Traffic is building “slowly but surely.” The company, whose main rivals include Google Inc. and Garmin Ltd., cut its profit and sales forecasts for the fiscal year in June due to slowing U.S. demand for its devices.