Hot on the heels of TomTom's European announcement of the new GO Live 1000 GPS and its WebKit-based OS comes word that the GPS manufacturer is looking to get in on the app store game. According to an interview with TomTom CEO Harold Goddijin over on Pocket-lint, TomTom's app store should add flexibility to future TomTom devices, as well as bring the "TomTom experience" to other platforms.
For example, apps that bring data from Wikipedia or any number of tourist guides could help vacationers and transplants explore strange new areas. A Layar-type augmented-reality app would be even better for exploration. A traffic camera app could help with route planning, or a geocaching app could make the navigation device useful for recreational activities outside of the car. We're not too sure how useful a Facebook app would be in an automotive environment, but TomTom should have an app for that as well.
TomTom was pretty vague about the second half of its app strategy--the spiel about expanding the "TomTom experience" beyond the portable navigation device itself. We suspect, at the most basic level, this means that TomTom will make it easy to enable two-way communication between apps developed for other devices and platforms and the TomTom GPS devices of the future. For example, a user may be able to send destination info from an app running on an iPhone or Android device to a TomTom GPS device waiting in their car.
However, in light of new partnerships with Ford, Daimler, Volkswagen, BMW, Renault, and most recently Alfa Romeo, this potentially marks the beginning of TomTom's move toward more holistic cabin tech solutions. The open-ended nature of using the WebKit back end and an app-based structure with two-way communication means that it would be fairly easy for TomTom to adapt its user interface to a particular vehicle or design plug-ins that give TomTom's system control of a compatible vehicle's climate control systems or audio sources.
Could we one day see OEMs offering TomTom-branded cabin tech packages to replace the pricey in-dash systems of current vehicles? Maybe not in a high-level BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but in an entry-level Volkswagen, Ford, or Renault model, there's potential to add a relatively high level of tech while cutting costs to the OEM and the consumer. Only time will tell.
How much time is still up in the air. Speculation points to at least a more formal announcement of the app platform and store later this year, but TomTom refuses to nail down a launch date. Our question is: In the rapidly shrinking portable navigation market, is this just too little, too late?