/ Motoring, Shopping, Technology

Could integrated smartphones kill the built-in sat nav?

Android Auto

Forget the smartphone holster and the small phone screen. Smartphones can now fully integrate with your car and take over the central console screen. Tempted?

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems will become more common over the next couple of years, and could make your sat nav become a thing of the past. Here’s why…

Sat navs and smartphones

According to a survey we held earlier this year, two thirds of people have never updated their car’s built-in sat-nav. Not updating it might mean you miss out on things, such as that shiny new bypass, updated speed limits or any points of interest. Opting for a built-in sat nav can add cost to the car and the updates may not be free either, making this a potentially costly option.

If you buy a standalone sat nav, you’ve got the cost of the device plus the potential subscription costs to access live traffic information. It also takes up more space in the car – though considering that you can place the sat nav in line with the driver’s eye-line, some may see this as a plus.

Then there’s the smartphone. If you use Google Maps, Waze or another app that’s free to download, it usually has free live traffic, unlimited map coverage and it also keeps itself up-to-date. It’s true that some apps don’t do this – some charge for maps and have subscription deals for live traffic.

There are problems with using your smartphone; the small screen, the data usage and the battery life. You could place your smartphone in a holster, as I do. And if you’re trying to counter the battery problem by plugging it in to your car, you may end up with trailing leads near the console controls or by the steering wheel, which is not ideal.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

Enter the new systems: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. These systems are fast becoming available on more and more cars, with a number of models being launched this year able to use one or both.

Now if you attach your phone via a USB socket, a distinctly familiar Android or Apple operating system takes command of the central console screen in your car. The smartphone is now in control, and handles everything from sat nav to music. Voice control is also available.

There are a number of apps available within Android Auto and Apple CarPlay such as Spotify, WhatsApp, Skype, TuneIn Radio, Amazon Music and more.

This immediately gets over the small screen and the battery problem of smartphones. Your phone should stay charged thanks the USB connection and, because everything appears on the screen in your car, you don’t need to use the phone’s own small screen.

Smartphone sat nav data use

However, there is one large problem that remains: data usage.

Normally, I use the Waze app on my phone. During a two hour car journey, I expect to use around 5-8MB of data.

But I’ve also had the chance to play with Android Auto. Using Google Maps as its sat nav, the map that displayed was clear, easy-to-use and kept adjusting my route to keep me out of the worst traffic. But it also ate up a lot more of my data. 18MB in fact.

On top of that, according to my phone, just the Android Auto app used an additional 8MB of data during that time – making it 26MB in total. In two hours. And that’s without using any other apps, like Spotify to stream music. As my contract has a 1GB data limit, that means I used over three quarters of my day’s data allowance in one fell swoop.

So if I wanted to make use of this system, I’d have to upgrade my contract. Car manufacturers are already saying that you should opt for unlimited data bundles to use either of these systems.

Would you integrate your phone and car?

So it comes down to this: do you want your smartphone to become one with your car? Would you prefer to spend more on data if it meant maps stayed up-to-date? Or would you prefer to stick with either your standalone sat nav, built in sat nav or just use your smartphone as it is?

Personally, despite the potentially massive data use, I think integrating smartphones with our cars is going to be the next big thing. No need to splash out on standalone or built in sat navs, and no small phone screens seems like a strong argument. But what do you think?

Do you think you'd integrate your smartphone with your car?

No, I'll stick with a built-in or standalone sat nav (48%, 800 Votes)

Eh? What's wrong with a paper map? (30%, 501 Votes)

Yes - I like the sound of it, despite the large data use (14%, 227 Votes)

No, I'd prefer to use a separate app on my smartphone (9%, 149 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,677

Loading ... Loading ...

TomTom are now doing satnavs with lifetime world maps and unlimited data and roaming to keep you up-to-date with traffic so you don’t have to worry about data usage.

I haven’t looked at new cars recently but isn’t it time all cars came with a dedicated area to put satnavs and phones?

One disadvantage is the phone facility is not then usable while the satnav is working, is it? Would we miss that though!

Hi Adrian,
There are no on-going charges with TomTom 5100 and the features are available for the lifetime of the product. There have been queries as to what lifetime actually means on various forums though. Is it as long as you own and use the product or will it be when TomTom pull the plug on the features?

I think we got into places (or lack of them) to put satnavs in a previous convo. Your air vent is still in one piece then?

Anything that stops people using phones when they are driving is to be welcomed.

People will not only use a satnav when driving. The best use is probably when walking in unfamiliar towns or countryside.

I used to do this but find that a smartphone is a much better tool for the job and can be used for a variety of other purposes.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists highlights the dangers of using mobiles in cars including handsfree phones: http://www.iam.org.uk/media-and-research/media-centre/news-archive/996-using-smartphones-behind-the-wheel-is-more-dangerous-than-drink-driving

Thanks Adrian

Margaret Billing says:
22 April 2016

Last time I looked 25MB was one fortieth of 1GB, not a quarter.

John says:
22 April 2016

Why not use Here Maps? This is downloaded to your phone and overcomes the Data Usage. Most of the information is stored on the SD card. World wide maps for free at the moment

I have a Sat nav on my phone but never use it. I know how to find my way anywhere using a map and looking at road signs if need be mind you I was traveling a long time around the country before Sat have etc.

I have no fears of losing my in-built sat-nav which I am afraid must always be a possibility with one that leaves the car. Also I realise mine has been working just fine for nearly 8 years and I wonder if any smartphone will have that sort of reliability.

Still I am sure it will be the next big thing as it offers commercial advantage to the likes of Google and Apple and they will provide the smarts that the car manufacturers seem to lack given the awful problems that the US auto industry has had with integration of digital technology.

However I am absolutely convinced that one hack-free in-built sat nav wil always be my preference.

here maps looks interesting:
” With the backing of our new investors, AUDI AG, BMW Group and Daimler AG, we aim to accelerate the deployment of real-time maps that can benefit all our customers.
And as an open location platform, we are accessible to all customers who seek to leverage the power of location in their businesses.
We offer world-class location products and services via three business units: …..”

I have used Waze on my iphone for the last few years – in many different countries too. I love the app and find it very easy to use so would love to be able to have it display on the screen in my car instead of the built in satnav. I’ve often wished I could “mirror” my iphone screen onto the car’s touch screen. I have an MX-5 which has a built in satnav and I hate it. It isn’t easy to use and doesn’t get good traffic info either. That said I can’t see why displaying an app on your car screen should use so much more data then displaying it on the phone itself – I think that needs more work! By the way using my iphone abroad I have a contract with 3 that means all data is within my UK allowance in all the countries I’ve worked in. There is a limit for data usage abroad and I can’t remember what it is but I’ve never fallen foul of it and use waze routinely on my commute and in fact on all journeys. That’s not because I need directions but because I know I am contributing to the traffic info for others via the app.

For countries where data would cost a lot I would consider something like here maps but I like getting live traffic – which you couldn’t do without data so it would be a last resort only to avoid high costs.

NukeThemAll says:
2 May 2016

We own a VW with a navigation system and also ‘Car-Net’ which includes Mirrolink, Android auto and Apple car play. Compared to the TomTom GO Android app, the VW sat nav looks primitive but works OK-ish with mainly sensible routing (but a few real howlers) and reasonable directions. It offers the capability of using your phone as a WiFi hotspot and as such it receives useful traffic info (not the rudimentary TMC) and can search for destinations using Google, which is of course excellent. The other bonus is that the ‘next navigation step’ is displayed on the central display (between the rev counter and speedo) ie right in front of the driver, so the driver can easily see a ‘cut-down’ navigation instruction without having to glance down and look at the radio screen. Using the built-in satnav with phone-supplied data is a very small data transfer per journey.

My Nexus phone does not support Mirrorlink but it doesn’t take much research to see that few apps (not including TomTom) are supported. I really hope that the ability to truly mirror the phone’s apps on the car infotainment system happens soon, but Mirrorlink seems to be very immature. Android auto sounds OK but….. the Google Navigation is a sub-set of the phone’s app, so saved/favourite places aren’t available (why?). And of course Google aren’t likely to support rival navigation apps any time soon for Android auto. Apple car play works fine and Apple maps works as expected (ie not yet as good as Google navigation but improving all the time).

With all of the above, what do I use for a journey? Despite their sometimes bizarre customer services and occasionally buggy app, I choose TT GO. Traffic info is good, directions and routing are very good, re-calculation is near-instant on my phone, and £35 for 3 years including traffic info and map upgrades is surely acceptable. But I’d really, really love to have TT GO (or any app I choose) displayed on the main screen in the car. At the very least, I’d also like a dedicated slot in the car (with charging USB point or wireless charging) for my phone, obviously high up in the vehicle so it can receive good GPS and phone signal.

And yes, I could rely on maps (I’m old enough to have driven when I had to) but talk of ‘distracting sat nav’ is IMHO ridiculous, compared to the trauma of getting lost and flustered when eg diversion signs ‘disappear’, or an inner-city road is closed or….you get my point.

my Nokia phone is not Smart but has GPS on it. Made a holder for it below windscreen level. am tempted to get holder that fits in CD slot, easy to change between cars. Mostly rely on the voice, not need to look at screen much. It quickly does ‘route recalculation’ without getting annoyed when I prefer alternative road.
I use it when cycling and walking, great at end of journey to find destination.
Have also used it in boat on lake or river to find saved destination when few good landmarks or getting dark.

I’m not sure why you need to use 18MB of mobile data when using Android Car and Google Maps for SatNav. You can simply disable the data as Maps only requires GPS to be enabled (though you do need to set up the route before your journey – no more inconvenient than planning your journey with a map). I don’t have mobile data and all works fine using Android Car with Google Maps for satnav.

Similarly, if you store your own music on a microSD card on your phone, you don’t need mobile data.

At the moment, it is probably best not to reply on mobile data because so much of the country still has no 3G or 4G and it’s not uncommon for there to be no mobile coverage of any kind.