TiPb Answers: Why is There No Turn-by-Turn Navigation on the iPhone?

TiPb loves answering your emails, but we also love sharing our answers with the community in hopes that more people will benefit, and even better answers will present themselves (hey, that's why we have them forums!). Today's question comes from Chris:

"Why doesn't the iPhone have real GPS?! Even the [redacted] Samsung Instinct has turn by turn! Why does Apple add [redacted] like street view [but] not the things users really want?"

TiPb answers after the break!

We've covered iPhone GPS and turn-by-turn navigation quite a bit here at TiPb, especially Dieter who lives out in the middle of somewhere and claims he needs it quite a bit. Why wouldn't Apple add it indeed? Should be a no-brainer, right?

Well, here's a few things:

  1. Apple doesn't really supply the GPS middlewhere on the iPhone. They have the chip, of course, and they made the UI (Steve's even boasted about it on stage!), but the App itself is "powered" by Google Maps. So, the functionality of the App is in some ways limited to the functionality provided by Google. For example, we're seeing street-view, transit, and walking directions in iPhone 2.2 Beta 2. Why? Because Google has been rolling that out across smartphone platforms, starting with Android. Do any devices have Google-powered tun-by-turn yet? Not to our knowledge. And there may be a reason for that...
  2. Licensing conflicts. Google doesn't own the maps they serve. They license them from Tele Atlas and Navteq. Dieter pointed out a while back that Google's "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." This looks like a pretty complicated and potentially deal-breaking deadlock (read the whole article for more). And it's not the only legal problem...
  3. Apple's iPhone SDK agreement currently prohibits 3rd party turn-by-turn Apps. This could be to avoid the licensing issues mentioned previously, to leave the door open for an "officially licensed" version if Apple and Google can come to an agreement with the licensors (who may not want to see a competitive convergent device like the iPhone get that functionality), or because Apple feels they'll be sued by the first brainiac who tries to switch between turn-by-turn and SMS and back while driving into a lake.
  4. Why can't TomTom or another dedicated GPS manufacturer release an iPhone App directly, using their own Apps? After all, TomTom has already said they've made their system run on the iPhone. The App Store has a reported 2GB size limit, so there's likely space enough for a robust install. Despite the SDK licensing restrictions, however, would a company like TomTom feel iPhone App sales would make up for the loss of dedicated hardware unit sales they'd face? There have been stories about the dedicated GPS players fearing the iPhone (and other convergence devices) would put them out of business. Let's remember when Popular Mechanics asked the president of a GPS navigation system manufacturer how he felt about the prospect of a GPS-enabled iPhone, the president said he was: "Scared [expletive]-less".
  5. Could all of the above issues be at play? Apple's head of iPhone Marketing, Greg “Joz” Joswiak, previously said: "there are some murky “complicated issues” preventing driving directions apps at the moment. 'It will evolve. I think our developers will amaze us.' "

Let's hope so. Meanwhile, does anyone have any other ideas on why there's no turn-by-turn navigation on the iPhone?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

TiPb Answers: Why is There No Turn-by-Turn Navigation on the iPhone?


I believe it all comes down to the manufacturers being scared of the iPhone platform. Very simple... And to be frank, I don't blame them. Be scared cause if any company gives the iPhone turn by turn with voice support, it's a wrap for dedicated GPS apps.

perhaps because licensing the maps for a dedicated A-GPS app is too costly? (why exactly does tbt gps need to be a function of the maps app?) and perhaps because tbt gps would see the iPhone's battery flat within a half hour :-)

well, tomtom have had a version running on palm, symbian and windows mobile for years. doesn't seem to have hurt sales of their PNDs.

I don't know why but I have turn by turn from onstar on my new Malibu so hopefully they will work it out in the next year, apple sucks, I hate having them decide what I can and cannot have on my phone, I hope they get investigated by the government for running a monopoly, why can't we use opera instead of safari if we chose to

I don't think the iPhone getting TomTom would hurt standalone GPS units much at all. Indeed TomTom, and others, love things that help with the uptake of GPS. It seems to me, the software/maps are where the big money is for these companies anyways

Licensing conflicts? Well, yeah, Apple doesn't own the data provided by Google. Who said that an Application made by Apple would have to use Google's data?
SDK agreements? Well, that is no point at all because Apple made the agreement and they can change it any time. Beside that: the agreement applies to 3rd party developers only, not Apple.
A company like TomTom would be afraid of less hardwae units sold? Sorry, but that's complete bulls*. TomTom, like many other, already sells their navigation software to be used on cell phones. It runs on Windows and Symbian based handsets. So, why shouldn't they sell it on the iPhone as well?
Well, I don't have any better idea myself at this time why there might be no Turn-by-turn on the iPhone, but I still think that it will come soon, maybe this year...

@Steffen Breitbach
I agree with most of your points, but recently TomTom hasn't been doing much in Mobile world, i.e. Symbian has not been updated for long time, they don't even support inbuilt GPS on Nokia devices.

I kind of echo Steffen's post. If it's a hardware/software issue an limitation, then fine, I get it. (although isn't the iPhone supposed to be the most powerful phone to date? Far less advanced phones already have TBT GPS)
But if it's a licensing/red tape issue, then that's another story. I'm just an average consumer, and I DON'T TO HEAR THE EXCUSES, APPLE. The average iPhone user doesn't care and doesn't want to hear about red-tape and SDK licensing issues. It's not our problem. More and more, Apple is starting to sound like the company that rationalizes short-comings. Make it happen, Apple.
I don't care what it takes but Apple better find a way to get TBT GPS and copy/paste on this phone or someone else will.

This seems like a nobrainer for someone like Garmin or TomTom to develop. I don't know about the general public, but I'ld easily pay $50-$100 for an app to do Turn-by-Turn directions

If they give you turn by turn now, what will they have to release with the iphone v3? It's marketing pure and simple. Delay the roll out of features to keep up interest.

As someone who has a Garmin GPS at the moment, and only ever take with me when I know I'm going somewhere I've never been before, an iPhone app would be most welcome for TBT directions. I could just leave the phone connected to my in car charger, and have a bluetooth ear piece in my ear, telling me the directions as I needed them.
It needs to happen to make the iPhone 3G the only device I carry in my pocket. I'll gladly pay a subscription, like I did with my N95, in order to use it. They could make it monthly, yearly, or a life time subscription to access turn by turn voice directions. Hell, they could make it daily for 20 cents / 30 pence for 24 hours access and I'd do that as and when I needed them.

I suspect that apple might team up with wayfinder.com to put it on iPhone v.3 , They already released powersearch for the iPhone and it seems like a popular app.

I don't fully get it. I have a crappy LG phone from Verizon and I use VZNav constantly for turn-by-turn directions. Seriously I use it all the time (I'm bad with directions)... What's that considered? A-GPS Or something? I know I pay $10 bucks a month for it, but it's more than worth it to me. I like to know that wherever I travel I will have that little thing in my pocket.
So how is it that the iphone doesn't have something like that? Didn't I read something about telenav creating an app for it? Isn't telenav the same kind of thing as vznav?
Honestly the fact that there is no turn-by-turn options on the iphone is preventing me from buying it. At least the blackberry storm has vznav on it.

I will love turn by turn when it arrives, but I do not need it. What I do need is the ability to keep my present location in the middle of the screen as I move along the designated route in Google map.
Having to reach up and move the screen is not only distracting, but sometimes will reset the app if done as a tap rather than a sweep.
It is such a small change but why has it not been done?

With google maps you still have to click next on the maps to jump to another page which is not good while driving, turn by turn is welcomed by me...

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