Tag Archives: TomTom

Can You Trust User Generated Mapping?

A couple of days ago The Next Web ran an interesting and detailed article about the rise of Open Street Map and their ongoing attempt to compete with Google Maps as the go to mapping solution.

Open Street Map data has achieved several notable successes as companies have switched from using Google data to theirs, but the critical question is whether the data is any good?

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with user generated mapping solutions. As you will see elsewhere on my blog I’m running Open Street Map based maps on my handheld GPS, and my satnav of choice is Waze, which although it doesn’t use Open Street Map, uses maps made in a similar way with user generated mapping.

The strength of both platforms is that anybody can edit the map, so problems get solved a lot quicker than errors in the major suppliers maps get sorted, but that is also their biggest weakness.

IMG_3839I’ll give an example, a couple of weeks ago I was driving to work, and I came across this on the map just south of Eversley, a route I drive most days.

To explain what you’re looking at, the map was showing that the roundabout where the B3272 splits from the A327 was about five times as big as it actually is, and was a residential street rather than a main highway.

Getting home and taking a look on the Waze map editor confirmed there was a problem with the map data.

IMG_3841What you can see on here is the editor view overlaid on a satellite view of the same junction. The roundabout is highlighted in red which indicates that there is missing location data for the road. Checking the road elements the new roundabout had been put in place by a new user who had done little editing before, and who had obviously accidentally damaged the map at that point, messed it up and left it. The problem of course being that nobody else spotted it until it was too late and the update went out to all the users.

To the credit of the community shortly after this screenshot was taken one of the higher level editors sorted the problem as needless to say it got reported fairly quickly, and unlike errors in TomTom or Garmin maps the fix appeared on my copy of Waze within three or four days.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 22.50.53Of course the professional mapping firms don’t get it right. For example this is the dual carriageway that Google Maps has on the B3272 in the middle of Eversley Cross – if you live near Eversley you’ll be forgiven for having missed it previously. What they have now is a bit of an improvement over what they had originally where the westbound carriageway followed the footpath across the front of the houses fronting on to the green.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 22.48.50There is also this long standing problem in Camberley on the TomTom maps. Again it’s been improved over time but it still incorrectly labels Charles Street as New Southern Road, and still has two connections at the northern end of Southern Road that just don’t exist.

Screenshot 2014-03-01 23.00.26In both of those cases, Waze and OpenStreetMap are right, this is the Eversley Cross dual carriageway on OpenStreetMap.

So can you trust User Generated Mapping?

I’d say that you can trust it to the same extent as “professional” mapping – both have errors and problems and you need to be aware of that and use your common sense using them as you should with any map, even one with the long established reputation of the paper Ordnance Survey maps. The key advantages that user generated mapping can bring is that if there are mistakes they get sorted quickly, and new roads or changed layouts will often appear in Waze or OpenStreetMap long before they turn up in one of the periodic updates for a regular satnav.

Really the comparison of Wikipedia with OpenStreetMap is a good one, both are excellent sources of information, as long as you are aware that they might be wrong…

Garmin or TomTom

I guess I was an early adopter of satellite navigation. Over ten years ago I had a navigation package from TomTom (or Palmtop as they were then called) installed on my Psion 5mx and through a complicated series of cables hooked it up to a Garmin eTrex and powered the whole thing in the car. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit clunky, had no voice instructions, took an age to recalculate if you went off route, and had a number of mapping errors – Micheldever Station was marked on a railway bridge half a mile from the station for example.

From there I progressed onto stand alone units, sticking with Garmin as my handheld GPS units were Garmin’s and could share desktop software and maps. Currently I’m running a Garmin Nuvi with full maps of both Europe and North America and an FM traffic receiver, and that has served us fine.

Last week it turned out that both Beth and myself needed the satnav as both of us were going to be going to unfamiliar places. Obviously we didn’t need a second satnav, but since my iPhone has a nice little GPS on it I thought I’d take a look at the options. Conveniently PCPro have just done a group test of satnav applications, and TomTom came out top of the pile. Since one of my biggest bugbears with the Garmin Nuvi is the fact that the FM traffic often reports traffic jams when it’s too late to avoid them and I’d heard good things about the TomTom Live Traffic service I thought I’d go for the TomTom application despite it being one of the premium priced satnav products in the app store.

First off, it is a nice little app, slightly confusing to navigate around until you get used to it, but fine on the road. The Live Traffic service is impressive, and indicated traffic pretty consistently, and the routing based on actual road speeds certainly allowed it to pick routes which matched much more closely with short cuts I knew about rather than the more obvious routes the Garmin would take.

However there is a really big problem, even ten years later, there are still problems with the TomTom maps. Whilst Micheldever Station is now in the right place, other things aren’t. For example a local petrol station whilst close to the right spot is the wrong side of a road junction, speed limits are wrong, and whereas my Garmin will guide me right to my front door, even saying on which side of the street it is the TomTom app can only manage to get me to the street.

There are more serious problems too. We live adjacent to a military base, and whilst there are roads that go across, they are closed with security guards on the gates – the TomTom map doesn’t reflect this. The map is also just plain wrong in places, a major example being around the Atrium in Camberley.

Below are three screenshots from my iPhone. The left hand one is from the Maps application showing an up to date satellite picture of Southern Road down the side of the Atrium. The second shot is from TomTom, the only app of the three that costs any money. The third is from Waze, the community navigation app that is a free download.

20120529-073146 PM.jpg 20120529-073225 PM.jpg 20120529-073242 PM.jpg

Looking at it you’ll see that the TomTom version is very inaccurate. It incorrectly shows Southern Road running all the way to Southwell Park Road, and running all the way to the A30 at the other end – it doesn’t. Instead it is blocked at both ends with an access road a short way down. There is also an entire roundabout missing which in the TomTom version is replaced by a pair of junctions. Whilst the Atrium is pretty new, it’s been built for a number of years, and the road layout TomTom has doesn’t bear much relation to what is there now, nor to what was removed when the Atrium was built. The third screen shot shows the layout according to Waze which is correct, and the layout is also correct on my Garmin Nuvi.

It is fair to say I’m not impressed. TomTom, much like Waze has the ability to report map errors, but with Waze I’m not paying a premium price. Garmin have up to date maps, is it too much to expect that TomTom could do the same? Suffice to say my experience with TomTom is not going to have me switching. Whilst I am impressed with the Live Traffic it is pretty fundamental to have accurate maps, having found a number of errors locally where I know the area, how can I have the confidence travelling in a strange area that the TomTom is correct?