Between smartphone traffic apps like Waze and new generations of cars that have traffic-data access built-in, portable navigation devices from the likes of TomTom are surely feeling the squeeze. With its new GO product line announced Friday, TomTom's giving away its premium traffic data, which the company says covers 99.9 percent of all roads in the U.S. and includes data crowdsourced from more than 150 million drivers in North America and 350 million users worldwide. By comparison, the popular smartphone app Waze, bought by Google last summer, is estimated to use data from a mere 50 million users worldwide. (Follow CES 2014 live, and get the latest CES news here.)
Calling it "our crown jewel," Tom Murray, TomTom's vice president of marketing, acknowledged that the company's HD Traffic data up to now "has been available only for a price, and prohibitive," requiring one of the company's GPS devices and a SIM card, plus a data plan. Renamed simply TomTom Traffic, that data will now be free with the higher-end GO devices (and available on trial with lower-cost models). Instead of requiring a data plan, TomTom will offer an iOS/Android app to stream the data through your smartphone to the GO device.
During a briefing with TechHive, TomTom provided research showing that 33 percent of drivers who use navigation have a portable device, but 17 percent have a phone app. That's a fast gain, given how short a time traffic apps have existed compared to navigation devices.
But wait, TomTom says: Our traffic data is much, much better than what you'll find on some silly old app. TomTom's Murray dismissed Waze as "analogous to what we did in the early years with our Map Share feature," noting the limitations of relying entirely upon crowdsourced information. TomTom's massive data set of 350 million users worldwide is available through partnerships with unidentified handset manufacturers.
TomTom says that compared to third-party traffic sources like TMC (Traffic Message Channel), used by some competitors, TomTom's existing trove of map data lets it display more granular traffic data. TomTom Traffic uses Open Location Referencing (Open LR) to plot traffic incidents to a precision level as small as 30 feet, compared to 300 feet for competing traffic products. The Open LR data also can report 20 percent more incidents, on average, than TMC, according to TomTom. The higher-end GO devices can display traffic-map data in 3D, which makes it easier to understand where you fit into the flow.
Now we'll see whether this will all be enough to fend off the traffic app invasion. The TomTom GO products will come in three screen sizes: 4.3-inch, 5-inch, and 6-inch, with names that correspond to those sizes. The entry-level GO 40, GO 50, and GO 60 devices will be priced from $119 to $159 and come with two-dimensional maps plus a trial for TomTom Traffic. The GO 40 S, GO 50 S, and GO 60 S products will range in price from $149 to $199 and come with 3D maps and TomTom Traffic. The high-end GO 500 ($249) and GO 600 ($299) will have touchscreens and active speech recognition. All the devices come with lifetime free map data that will be updated quarterly.