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Navigating the smartphone learning curve

John Day

John Day

Posted Nov 26, 2012

A while back I met with the folks at TeleCommunication Systems (TCS) who are responsible for the VZ Navigator app on Verizon smartphones as well as navigation apps on myriad other smartphones. Networks in Motion launched the app in 2006 and TCS acquired them three years later. VZ Navigator uses Navteq maps but the app is built on HTML5 so TCS can work with any map provider and otherwise customize a navigation app to suit a location or a customer.

And TCS has quite a prestigious customer base. Besides AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Metro PCS, QNX, and DENSO, customers include the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Special Operations Command, plus the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments.

I don’t have a TCS app on my smartphone so TCS lent me one of theirs. The app has a clean and clear interface and a host of location-based services that for many users will justify the subscription fee of $4.99 per-month for the premium service. Premium includes highlighted exit lanes, traffic conditions, traffic camera locations and more. Avoiding just one speeding ticket would more than cover the cost. The app is fast and accurate, though it does rely on the availability of a GPS signal.

VZ Navigator will direct a user to the nearest ATM, the cheapest gas, or the restaurant/hotel/shopping venue of his/her choice. The more often one searches, the more the app knows one’s preferences and, thus, the more helpful it can be. It not only keeps track of restaurants, updating its database regularly, but also keeps up with what’s playing at the movies, or who’s in concert, or when the circus is coming to town.

Trying out VZ Navigator led me to ruminate on smartphone navigation apps vs. portable navigation devices vs. printing out directions from Google Maps and trying to read them at night while traveling at 65 MPH. The more turns needed to reach a destination, the more value there is in a good navigation app.

I’ve read and written a lot about location based services and connected cars but it’s taking me a while to get with the program. Most of the time I’m in the car, I know where I’m going and how to get there. Much of the time my routes are fairly simple even when they cover long distances, going from one highway to another. It’s possible to miss a turn, of course, and that’s where lane guidance provides a benefit. When I’m driving on a highway, I’m inclined to look for gas station or restaurant signs near exits than I am to search for either on a smartphone, but I’ll come around eventually.

Comparing a smartphone with a personal navigation device (PND), though, I found it more difficult to check the map with a brief glance and I had trouble hearing the spoken directions even with the phone volume cranked up and the radio off. My car lacks an aux port, which would have solved the sound volume problem, and I’ve since learned that a wireless Bluetooth speaker would have worked.

I was able to enter destinations with voice commands, which is a great feature. I admire people who seem to be able to type faster with their thumbs on a smartphone than I can with however many fingers on a conventional keyboard. My thumbs are too big, so I’m ordering new ones from Amazon.

Have you taken to location based apps like a duck to water? How are they helping?

Air Force, Portable Navigation Device (PND), Verizon, Navy, Metro PCS, Special Operations Command, Sprint, Verizon smartphones, DENSO, VZ Navigator, GPS signal. Google Maps, Networks in Motion, U.S. Army, QNX, AT&T, location-based services, TeleCommunication Systems (TCS), Smartphones, Amazon, Marines

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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