How TomTom is loosing the plot

I have always loved TomTom’s navigators. Having accidentally blown up my seven year old TomTom go 300 recently, I was forced to buy a new one.

The go 300 was an extremely reliable device with a fat battery that even after all these years of loyal service would continue to work for about two hours once fully charged. It produced propper sound quality and the best dashboard-stand ever used for a TomTom product.

The new model I bought at a Halfords shop in the UK during the holidays is an “825 live”. And yes it works and most of the time the traffic service is pretty spot on and well worth the money.

However.. there are a number of quirks with the device that make it a lot less desirable than the original was when I bought it ten years ago.

Looks can be deceiving, but the beauty of this device must truly be in the eye of the beholder; It is “UGLY!” (one of my favourite Steve Jobs quotes on netbooks)

The device-design does not distinguish itself in ANY way from competing devices. It is boring to look at, it feels flimsy, the model (more on the models later) can NOT be identified from looking at the device; it looks cheap. And I can’t imagine that TomTom took the effort to implement Gorilla glass to make it more durable. I am not going to test this one out, but it feels like “drop it will pop-it”.

And in order to find out the model.. you need a computer or start decrypting serial numbers. There is NO way to identify the model by just looking at it. Was it cheaper to produce without any distinctive features?

The connector on the original stand for the Go 300 was sturdy and reliable. It did not require you to plug in cables to the device: the stand had a built in connector.

The new device uses a small, flimsy USB – like jack, waiting to wear out. Then the connector has a BEND in the cable to fit just behind the back of the device and is IMPOSSIBLE to connect behind the screen whilst driving. I know one should not attempt these things.. but even standing still before a traffic light it is virtually impossible to plugin the cable without damaging or misguiding the connector. And of course the jack is invisible from the front so you will have to either swivel the complete unit around and look for the jack, or remove it from the windscreen by retracting the suction – cup, which is a pain since it uses a SCREW mechanism as opposed to some sort of knob that worked so well in the past.

Then.. a lot of the times the device will not easily find the satellite signal. The older TomTom suffered from that as well.. but then that was a lot older; no clear progress there for my unknowing eyes. There is a small improvement, but not enough to justify seven years of research. And I live within a small town in the Netherlands by the way, not in the heart of Manhattan. Comming out of a parking lot in an unfriendly city is the time where you really need your navigation to respond fast. “Where do I go NOW?!”  That’s when it will probably fail. Just like when you have to take a propper exit in a tunnel: the device does not properly extrapolate to point you in the right direction once the signal to the satelite is lost.

Driving through a car-unfriendly city like Brussels where once REALLY depends on the device.. it just looses the plot. The TomTom looses either Satelite(s) on a regular bases, or doesn’t understand the way the streets are laid out. As much as I am not a fan of Brussels.. the inner city of Brussels is ancient and not very likely to change much. TomTom has no problems with an equally challenging city like Amsterdam (closer to the TomTom headoffice?..!) but Brussels seems to much of a stretch.

If this is due to the maps of Brussels not being properly mapped – out, then TomTom is still to blame since they are responsible for the maps! I pay a LOT of money (€59,- for 18 months of map updates, about 25% of the money I paid for the device!) for the map – updates.

The device is suffering a LOT from a lack of performance both during startup as well as regular operations. Maybe there the Linux kernel hasn’t been properly optimised or maybe too many processes are putting a too heavy burden on the processor. Or maybe the CPU is just to slow in order to safe battery life, but whatever the reasons are; it has problems after startup to respond to the simplest of key presses. Especially the audible – instructions icon doesn’t seem to be able to keep up.

And of course the sound – commands that work so well on an iPhone.. are very often misinterpreted even for the simplest of commands. The device is simply struggling with the code and dragging through the menus; the code hardly seems specifically created for it as opposed to being dedicated embedded frimware. It might well be that the TomTom App runs better on superior hardware like an iPhone, but that makes purchasing a TomTom navigator device an even more dubious investment.

But what I find the most annoying of the TomTom product line these days.. is that there seems to be none.

-there are tooooo many TomTom models that seem to do and look the same but have different price ranges. One needs a microscope to tell the difference.

-again the device – models can not be properly distinguished without powering them and digging through many menus or hooking them on to a computer. And since two (?!) applications are used by TomTom to update the various models where the one application won’t understand the other’s models, confusion is imminent.

-when I bought the device it was told to me clearly that I was entitled for LIFETIME FREE map – updates. On some sites it says I am on some it doesn’t and on some it says that I am entitled for free map updates for only one year after purchase, as for the traffic service. (the traffic service in that respect makes sense to me)

It turns out I have to pay..


What would Steve have done?

Having read the Steve Jobs biography it makes me reflect on what Steve did when he re-joined Apple: When NO ONE could make it clear to him why there were so many Apple computer models or provide him with proper advise on what model he should tell customers to buy.. he scrapped the entire products line, made a simple drawing by dividing a flipboard into four areas that was comprised of two categories:

“home – user” and “professional”. For both categories of users he gave the engineers the order to create a desktop and a mobile computer. That’s what they did and that’s how the iMac was born. The iMac was a game changing, wonderful machine that people wanted to see in their homes and it turned out to be the lifesaver of Apple Computers.

And can annyone explain to me why a device that is so advanced as the TomTom and has 3g dataconnetions, is incapable of starting a (Skype?) video call so you can call home and see the family whilst you sit behind the wheel explaining that you are late? I know it’s not a phone: phones are RAPIDLY outsmarting TomTom devices,- and other navigator’s for that matter,- even with TomTom software on it. It is something that is technically feasible however, and should be on everyone’s wishing list. (FaceTime!)

TomTom is under so much threat from Google and others.. that they can’t suffer any more cuck-ups. They need new leadership or a vision on products and marketing that makes quality, industry leading, discriminative navigation solutions. They way it is run right now.. makes it clear why they are loosing market share to other vendors.

It’s not just the price that seems to be decisive when selecting a navigator; everybody wants an iPad even if they can’t effort it. The thing is.. everybody wants and even needs a navigator.. but not necessarily a TomTom. And that is such a shame for a viable company as TomTom was.



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