Why You Shouldn't Hold Your Breath Waiting for Realtime Turn-by-Turn Directions within Google Maps

When Rene gave us a As the Turn-By-Turn Turns update yesterday, we got a very smart comment from somebody calling him/herself GoogleLicense:

TiPB ought to do some research on the why’s behind this and break the story since the iphone press seems to love reporting this topic.
It might be something like this: Apple licenses significant parts of their map stuff from Google. Google licenses significant parts of their map stuff from several other vendors. Each license has certain restrictions.
If you dig around in the bowels of Google’s developer site looking for info on required copyrights and license restrictions when using embeddable maps, you can get a lot of details of what is and isn’t allowed for what sets of data and who the original source is that is putting those restrictions…

Indeed, we know a good idea when we see it. After the break, a short history of map providers, their licenses, and why it seems like waiting for Turn-by-Turn directions within Google Maps on the iPhone isn't a great idea.

Read on!

There are two major players in the map-providing business, Navteq and Tele Atlas. Navteq has been purchased by Nokia and TomTom wanted to buy Tele Atlas (and then they did).

Clear so far? It gets better. Let's start with Navteq map data

Navteq Map Data

Google Maps comes to us in two ways: directly via http://maps.google.com and via free APIs. Anybody is free to use the APIs to provide map locations (hence the many awesome Google Maps mashups out there) and it's a safe bet that Google Maps on the iPhone uses them too. Now, the web version of Google Maps mostly uses Navteq but may use a little Tele Atlas as well.

However, the API only provides Tele Atlas data, it appears that it's prohibited from serving Navteq data. As early as '05 there has been speculation that there was some sort of license fight between Google and Navteq and both sides decided to take their ball and go home. In the previously linked article, Nat Torkington wonders whether the sticking point is the "free" part in Google's free map API.

Seems likely to me. Google Maps on the iPhone is probably analogous to Mobile Safari on the iPhone, namely: it gets way more usage than comparable software on other platforms. That means there's too much potential profit for Navteq to let their data get served for free and, of course, those potentially astronomic costs are just the thing that keep either Apple or Google (or both) from budging.

Navteq map data is served up in other applications (like my personal Windows Mobile fave: Live Search) with turn-by-turn directions, so we're not looking at a technical issue here. I don't know for sure if what what Microsoft is paying Navteq for this map data, but given the relatively few installs of Live Search (but growing -- the software is available on several platforms now, including Symbian and BlackBerry), it's probably on a different order of magnitude than Google Maps on the iPhone.

Oh, and Navteq is now owned by Nokia, who probably isn't too keen on seeing their biggest threat pick up any more killer features.

So fine, Navteq data + Turn-by-Turn within Google Maps looks like a non-starter. What about Tele Atlas Data?

Tele Atlas Map data

Tele Atlas data is certainly capable of creating turn-by-turn directions too -- the thing powers TomTom maps, after all. The story here is likely (and thankfully) less complicated. TomTom owns Tele Atlas, and Tele Atlas is the only viable option for realtime Turn-by-Turn directions within Google Maps. Google Maps is free, TomTom is in the business of selling map software. (Google Maps is sticking with Tele Atlas for the next five years, too, in case you were wondering.)

TomTom wants to sell software on the iPhone, so why on earth would they allow their maps to be used in an on-deck, free piece of software in a way that would keep 95% of their potential customers from buying TomTom?

What Now?

We have "Turn-by-Turn-esque" functionality inside Google Maps now, but it's not anywhere near the level of functionality we need for realtime Turn-by-Turn as you drive. Given that both map providers are owned by companies with vested interests in keeping the iPhone's Google Maps app from having realtime Turn-by-Turn, it's not a situation I expect to see changed anytime soon.

Unless Apple, Google, TomTom/Tele Atlas, and Nokia/NavTeq all sit down and have a nice long chat about APIs, licensing uses, and fees, that is. That's three companies in the business of making competing smartphones, two companies in the business of making competing maps, and, well, a scheduling nightmare to boot. It's certainly possible, but I'm not holding my breath.

So now our hopes for realtime Turn-by-Turn rest on 3rd party software now. Except that the iPhone developer SDK disallows that too:

Applications may not be designed or marketed for real time route guidance; automatic or autonomous control of vehicles or aircraft, or other mechanical devices; dispatch or fleet management; or emergency or life-saving purposes.

We're just going to put some blinders on and assume that Apple will let somebody get around that clause.

Tele Atlas the best chance of getting their maps on the iPhone for Turn-by-Turn in a 3rd party app, however. They already provide map data for TomTom, Google Maps (via the API), TeleNav (and the many carrier-branded versions on other smartphones), and BlackBerry Maps. There's a skill set there that seem able to leverage. Plus, they're not owned by Nokia.

Here's my best guess at what could happen.

  1. Apple allows TomTom to go ahead and sell their software via the App Store. (Tele Atlas-based)
  2. TeleNav creates and provides their subscription-based map software. (Tele Atlas-based)
  3. I'll toss in one very long shot: Microsoft decides to pony up the license fees to Navteq for Live Search (or something similar) on the iPhone. (Navteq-based)

So tell us: Can the four-way mapping negotiations happen? If not, which of those three options do you want? Is there another turn-by-turn turnabout that I missed?

Dieter Bohn

Dieter Bohn is former editor-in-chief of Smartphone Experts, writing across iMore, Windows Phone Central, Android Central, and more. You can find him on Twitter (and everywhere else) @backlon.

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There are 28 comments. Add yours.

Rene Ritchie says:
  1. Google (or maybe Microsoft to compete with Google), opens their humungous wallet and buys everything and rolls out a complete solution.

(If it's Microsoft, look for a free, but Silverlight exclusive offering soon... :) )

  1. Like video and subscription music, Steve holds the line at "people don't want turn by turn on their phones. They just don't." Then Apple releases a subscription map service a few months later to cover licensing fees...
Joseph says:

Whoever wrote this does not know what they are talking about. TomTom has there own map providers that they have license agreemens with. These maps would be stored locally on the iPhone, just like TomTom on my PocketPC. They would not be using the Google Maps API that is provided in the SDK. That point is laughable. As far as the maps are concerned, there is no difference between TomTom on an iPhone or TomTom on any other phone or mobile device it currently supports.

DrF says:

This whole discussion amazes me. There are thousands if not millions WANTING turn by turn GPS on the Iphone; i.e., customer demand. There are companies that can provide it. Apple and these other companies would make a boatload of money. But instead, they are like children playing with their toys in the sandbox thinking they are actually doing us a favor by existing. Either make the products or someone else will.

Stephman says:

I vote for TomTom with maps installed locally on the iPhone.
Apple, get rid of this $hit and let TomTom sell their software in the app store!
"Applications may not be designed or marketed for real time route guidance; automatic or autonomous control of vehicles or aircraft, or other mechanical devices; dispatch or fleet management; or emergency or life-saving purposes."

Rick says:

Sorry if I am missing something here. But, when I go to Google Maps on my iPhone and get directions, it shows me the turn-by-turn directions. As I drive, I just follow the purple line or look at the direction list. Is pushing the arrow button for the next turn that difficult for everyone?

Stephman says:

at Rick,
remind me to stay away from you on the road!
No, it's not difficult, but not the safest thing to do.
I think most people are looking for SPOKEN turn by turn, so you can keep your eyes on the road and not have to worry about trying to tap that next arrow.

Dieter Bohn says:

@Joseph -
Yes, TomTom has their own map provider -- Tele Atlas. That's why they're one of our 'hopes' for getting realtime turn by turn.

Dieter Bohn says:

Actually - yeah, pushing that button is a big hassle for me, because afterward I need to re-center and rezoom the map so I can see where I currently am and what's next. It really does drive me crazy.

Stacylou says:

all I want for Christmas is a red, 32G iPhone (firmware 5.0, of course!) with TomTom software and maps already loaded :)

AnteL0pe says:

Rick, have you ever used TomTom or something similar? What you are describing sounds prehistoric compared to the TomTom experience.

Rick says:

Don't get me wrong, Google Maps is not perfect. Auto recalc of routes would be nice. But, it does provide turn-by-turn directions and it does get the job done. BTW, I do have Tom Tom loaded on my Treo, the Treo that is now destine to sit lonely on my desk for a long time!

firesign3000 says:

you guys worry about turn by turn nav on the iphone. i'll stick with my garmin nuvi for that, thanks.

Daniel W. says:

I think everyone is missing the problem with TomTom.
It needs to be sold through a Physical Store and then Loaded onto the iPhone.
You can't have a Multi Gig download through the app store. And I don't know of any apps that are bought at a physical store and then loaded to the iPhone (probably because Apple doesn't get their cut...). Am I incorrect on this???

Andy says:

@Daniel: I think you could sell the software and the maps separate. First you load the navigation software (without maps) over the appstore and afterwards you buy the maps you need from the tomtom website.
(The software on the iphone can then download the maps directly from the tomtom-server or something like that)

Daniel W. says:

Yeah - I guess it is possible. Although I still suspect that a huge download like that is problematic without a PC/Mac -> iTunes -> iPhone connection.
As to the rest of the issues raised above - TomTom has been selling a WinMo version for quite some time (as has iGo (Mio)). So the problem isn't in an API or a license agreement at the vendor level.
Honestly - I wouldn't want a google solution without massive rewrite of the caching (it would need to cache the entire route - and re-routing is problematic as well since the re-calc is done ON the server (so data hiccups would be horrible). At 40 miles an hour - you could easily get caught in a never ending re-calc because by the time you had new directions - you were past the next block anyway...
Just my thoughts...

FRED says:

The only hold up is that Apple has to decide if they want to make a direct profit by selling or licensing a turn by turn GPS solution, or if the think they can benefit from having 3rd parties sell solutions where they can share provides and help drive sales of iPhones.
Personally I would like to see TomTom have a go. I used their product successfully on my Palm Treo for the last 3 years without any problem. MOST IMPORTANTLY I also like to have the maps running on my device so that they are available ANYWHERE I go and do not depend on a Cell connection. That way I can use them out in the sticks where cell towers do not excist or in a foreign country where I can not afford dada service. People forget this important aspect. GREAT IDEA!!!
Google maps and TeleNav (TeleNav also requires an additional expensive monthly/yearly $$$ subscription both depend on a cell connection to provide gps maps. BAD IDEA!!!
Apple, get it together!!! The GPS in the iPhone 3G is more of a novelty right now and not very useful without Turn by Turn directions!

Paul says:

@ Daniel W - multi-gig, really?
My symbian version of TomTom 6 is ~30MB. My Great Britain Map with major roads of western europe is ~200MB. Something like this could easily be hosted on App Store I'm sure.

Andy says:

How does Garmin play into this? They do turn by turn directions for phones and I like their maps better than TomTom or TeleNav.

Insider says:

The issue for TomTom is not if Apple will let them create a turn-by-turn app. It's the 70/30 business model that takes a lot of profit away. It's also -impossible- to sell added services and new maps via the current app store model. For example, how can you add an extra map (eg Canada) on the iPhone? If you buy it stand-alone, how can the TomTom navigator find it? as far as i know, apps are self contained and cannot access data from other apps. The same applies for connected services. That's the main issue here. But on the other hand, it might be a blessing for TomTom. This might mean that the iPhone would be a complementary solution. You'll still need a TomTom in your car for the best experience.
As far as Garmin is concerned. They're focus on their own phone and are making a big mistake. Who wants a satnav with phone integration? People want the opposite, a phone with gps functionality. They are up for some rough times...

kevind says:

Currently TomTom sells their smartphone navigation app for US$150. I doubt there are "millions" of iPhone users that will pay that.
Moreover, TomTom might not be happy with Apple wanting 30% for doing almost nothing, whereas TomTom gets it all now by selling from their website. (Ditto for Slingbox players.)
All that said, TeleNav (using TeleAtlas data) is reportedly working hard on their version, which would probably require a monthly subscription model that the App Store doesn't support yet.

BKOTI says:

TomTom's best bet is to partner up with Apple and Android (Google)...inside of 5 years most cars will offer Nav as a standard option so the TomTom, Magellan, etc. handheld market is going to drop. What's left to replace it? That's right...turn by turn Nav on cell phones. Leave it to Jobs to be an idiot though...hmmmm, let me put an iPod on the iPhone and leave off stereo BT, then I'll give it GPS without any Nav software...GENIUS!!

Tony says:

@ Daniel
iTunes serves up 1+ gig files all the time. The movies are all more than a gig.

Darren S says:

This is all very typical of Apple, they would cut off their nose to spite their face as they chase as many bucks as possible.
I turned down an iphone for a more modest and significantly cheaper handset and I run amAze GPS quite happily, very handy it is too.
By the time these squabbling children have sorted something out you iphone'er will all be upgrading to your next phone no doubt.

Anon says:

We got it via an AT&T App. For your analysis I say "Fail".

Armin says:

The flaw with AT&T Navigator, etc. is that they don't download the maps. So no cell signal = no directions. Even when Apple finally gets its app from TomTom, it may continue this unholy trend. And anyway, iPhone users will still be a bunch of "alternative" geeky losers. Have you ever looked in an Apple Store? What a bunch of sad, pathetic little nerds.

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