[Update Sept 2015: The company has now introduced a new subscription based product called TomTom Go to replace the old smartphone software. We haven’t tested it at length yet, or out in the wilderness with no connection, but the company claims the app no longer needs a connection to work offline at all times. We sincerely hope so!]
TomTom, one of the biggest GPS navigation software and hardware suppliers in the world, has a big problem. And it’s one they’re pretending doesn’t exist. The company supplies a range of apps on all platforms and dedicated devices, but the one in question is the Android app which is available at a range of significant prices, we’re talking around $35 and upwards.
The problem is the app is not offline as the company claims, it actually needs an internet connection for periodic license checks (which can be every 2 weeks or so), and if it fails it can prevent you starting up the app exactly when you need it. Worse still, the license verification keeps breaking, so users are left without any GPS navigation at all, which can be more than a little dangerous.
GPS navigation nowadays is more than a nice to have, for many people it’s actually a life saver. Finding hospitals, avoiding dangerous areas when driving, even navigating back to safety after a wrong turn in the wilderness. And it is because of these situations that many people choose to buy and install an OFFLINE GPS system, rather than rely on Google’s excellent, but totally online offering which needs a live Internet connection at all times.
The last thing you need in an emergency is to have a GPS navigation system which won’t work because it can’t access an Internet data connection. And so companies like TomTom profit from this situation. Which is fine, except they’re lying to their customers. The terms and conditions of the TomTom for Android app (I haven’t personally tested the iPhone apps or others) states that:
The first part of the statement is indeed true, however the second part is definitely not. The app does need a data connection, and regularly, otherwise it simply will not load up. The symptom is one which many people over the years have discovered – the app starts to load, and then a screen comes up telling you that the license it not valid, even though the app is perfectly legal in every way, and you have an Internet connection etc etc. Do a search on Google for the problem and you’ll pick up 20,000 results.
The company in the past has acknowledged the problem privately, but given such inane solutions that it’s ridiculous. The last suggestion I received when this happened to me back in June when I was trying to access the satnav app in Europe, was to ‘remove all Google accounts from the phone, clear the cache and data for Play, go to App Management, tap Force Stop, clear…blah blah.” How many general public users are going to be able to do this while stuck out in the middle of nowhere?
The company has known about the problem with broken license verification for years now and has failed to fix it, either by allowing some kind of grace period or implementing a less draconian copy protection system (because this is all it is) to avoid piracy. Even setting the system to only allow maps to continue working with some sort of nag system in place would be better than risking someone’s life.
The company is clearly hoping that the problem will quietly go away, or maybe they don’t care because they want more people to buy their hardware based dedicated satellite navigation systems, but if so, they’re in for a shock. There are plenty of alternatives on the market which don’t impose punitive copy protection like this, and judging by the plummeting star ratings on the app store, people are starting to vote with their feet. Rather like passengers did with Ryanair a while ago, and we know where that’s ended up.
For now, I’ll keep the app on the phone because I paid a lot for it, but it’s time to keep a safety fallback on the handset as well, in case I get hit again somewhere like the remote mountains of Italy. Here’s my list of offline GPS satnav apps for Android which actually work all the time.
Nice free GPS satnav app, which offers both free OSM maps or you can use your already paid for TomTom maps on import. Not sure whether that will trigger the license rubbish though. The cool thing about using OSM maps is if you find something wrong in the directions you’re given, you can go their website at http://www.openstreetmap.org and add your own routing fix.
Another nice OSM data based satnav app, has a number of nice features, including integration with Google Street View if you like to see exactly where you’re going or where you should be. The app also features postcode search as well as POI (points of interest, like museums, airports etc).
One of the older GPS navigation apps out there, and perhaps not as polished as the others. Nevertheless it offers some decent functionality, including connection with a full sized desktop mapping service and a premium traffic display function. You can set up your route requirements on your computer and then send the details off to your phone for mobile use. There’s even a fuel cost per trip feature. Clever.