‘I told you we should’ve taken the first left at that roundabout!’ This and other such exclamations have been tempered by the sat nav. But with the rise of mobile phone apps, could the dedicated sat nav simply disappear?
This now humble little device helps us get to our destination without fanfare (usually). When used properly, it’s also safer than struggling to read a paper map. All-in-all, it’s been a boon to many drivers.
But there’s a threat to the dedicated car sat nav – the also humble mobile phone. Well, not so humble this time. Most smartphones now have access to sat nav apps that can give you turn-by-turn instructions, some of which are free.
A few of my Which? Tech colleagues think these apps will eventually see off the dedicated sat nav. And the stats seem to back them up – in the past year there’s been an almost 60% rise in the amount of people using their mobiles to navigate. There are now 44 million people doing this worldwide, with 195 million expected by 2015.
Still room for the dedicated sat nav
But I think there will still be a place for the dedicated sat nav. You don’t have to spend hundreds like you once did – you can buy them for as little as £75. Plus, our current Best Buys start from just over £100.
We’ve tested mobile phone sat nav apps and have actually found them to be quite poor in comparison. They’re not as clever. They aren’t as easy to use. Mobile phone screens are usually smaller. The GPS signal is often weaker. And voices are harder to hear, especially in noisy traffic.
I appreciate that you can buy cradles, loudspeakers, car chargers and other paraphernalia to make your smartphone app more usable. And it’s a given that the technology will get better in future. But I think that innovative sat nav manufacturers will stay a step ahead.
The future of the sat nav
There are already some very sophisticated and useful live traffic features on some dedicated sat navs. Perhaps in the future we’ll see the likes of TomTom and Garmin moving into retro-fit heads-up displays where directions are projected onto the windscreen? Who knows.
We’ve had a similar debate before – the death of the compact digital camera at the hands of mega megapixel camera phones. In the end that argument was greatly exaggerated.
Of course, the survival of the digital camera isn’t proof that dedicated sat navs will live on as well, but I still think there’s enough interest and “added value” in the sat nav that the soothing voice of Brian Blessed will happily direct us for years to come.