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In-Dash Navigation Is Dead; Long Live In-Dash Navigation

Smartphone apps are killing in-dash system, but the 'hybrid' approach offers the best of both worlds.

By Douglas Newcomb Apr 23, 2012 8:32AM

Scout by Telenav. Image by Telenav.Last week, I saw the future of in-car navigation, and its name was Scout. As smartphone nav applications displace expensive and outdated in-dash systems, Scout is just one name by which we’ll know navigation down the road. A more general and fitting term is “hybrid” navigation, since nav apps will more likely bolster onboard systems, taking advantage of the larger screens and external GPS antennas of the latter.

Scout is the latest nav app by Telenav, a pioneer in small-screen navigation that began back before phones became smart. Telenav is also the navigation partner for Ford and provides the SD-card-based nav software for the MyFord Touch system. This allows people who buy a vehicle with MyFord Touch to add in-dash navigation at any time, simply by purchasing an SD card with system software and mapping data and sliding it into an SD card slot in the vehicle.

But even with this flexible, nav-as-needed approach, you’re still using a static database that was essentially out-of-date by the time it was loaded onto the SD card and shipped. Smartphone nav apps don’t have this latency issue since they’re connected to the network, and can therefore access a constantly updated database of directions, points of interest and other info to help road warriors navigate the mean streets of a city, or find directions and services out in the boonies.

Scout is the forerunner of the next wave of vehicle-based navigation, combining the up-to-date connection of a smartphone and the upgradability of an app with in-vehicle electronics. And the more you use it, the better it will get to know you and help you find what you’re looking for.

You can try the Scout app now by downloading it from the Apple iTunes App Store. You get a 30-day trial with voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, and after that it’s $2.99 a month or $9.99 for a year. But it won’t be available in Ford vehicles until later this year.

Beyond getting you from Point A to Point B and letting you find almost any POI along the way -- as well as informing you about traffic and speed cameras -- Scout will also learn about your lifestyle and track your social-media interactions. While this may sound a bit scary to some, it’s no different than what Google does by tracking your Internet searches or the way Facebook monitors your activity and “friends.” Bottom line: It will personalize your navigation experience.

Telenav and Ford aren’t the only ones combining smartphone nav apps with in-dash systems, though their approach is more feature-filled and forward-thinking. Several automakers have an app that lets you search for and select an address on a smartphone and then send it to the car’s navigation system.

Toyota’s Entune system also takes a hybrid approach to POI search that supplements the static data on a car’s in-dash nav system. The system uses Bing to search the Internet for a POI and sends it to the in-dash nav system to direct the driver to it. Lexus does the same with its Enform app.

Hybrid navigation is a buzzword among car-tech geeks and industry analysts, and it will be coming soon to a dashboard near you. Even with the price of in-dash nav dropping, it’s clear that the technology is slowly dying, since many people prefer to rely on low-cost or even no-cost smartphone nav apps. Expect to see more solutions like Scout -- and to stop having to look at a small screen for directions while driving.

Scout by Telenav. Image by Telenav.

Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.

Apr 23, 2012 2:24PM
I hope in car never totally dies.  While I do have a smartphone I use and I do like the idea of a hybrid system, it's just nice to be able to turn your car on, get directions from it and go.  The problem (in my eyes, anyways) with in car navigation systems is that some manufacturers simply don't want to spend money on upgrading a system once it's built (Honda) and all manufacturers seem to think their system is worth an extra $2000+.  Of course, they justify this by including it in some sort of "package" that includes things you may want - the upgraded stereo, Hands Free stuff or with things you don't want - blindside warning, back up camera, etc.  Since the real cost of a navigation system is probably about $300 in the automotive business, I say just make 'em standard!  Most cars have a large central screen now anyways, so why not just make the GPS standard, move the car's price up about $150, and no one will ever know.  Then you'll probably see the take rates on the other packages rise, because people now no longer fret that "the stupid navigation comes with it". 
This reminds me of the aftermarket audio market in the '80s-'90s.  Manufacturers charged a fortune for "upgraded" audio systems that weren't that good - resulting in the aftermarket business becoming a billion dollar industry.  When OEMs realized the potential for profit, they upgraded their audio systems and made premium, high end systems available so that THEY could profit.  I can see this happening with GPS someday too.  

Aug 16, 2012 1:02PM
I'm searching for any info on the Unavi GPS system that I paid $2,000 to get installed in my Hyundai Genesis, and I'm so frustrated with it!!! I don't use it because it is so tedious even to input an address.... I can get any response from Brad Benson Hyundai since the installation, and I want it removed.  So sorry I got this feature.  THe Navi GPS does not speak to me to tell me direction, it talkes a while before it starts finding the location... much too slow! I can't see my radio station when I turn on the radio... It has one only screen.... clock does not come on automatically.  I'm totally unhappy every time I step into the car and see it!  Does anyone out there have this system?  What is your experience with it?
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