Social networks transform navigation

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Social networks and geo-location services are changing the way consumers interact with portable navigation devices (PNDs).

This is according to Joost Jetten, VP of sales for TomTom Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, as well as sub-Saharan Africa.

Jetten says gone are the days when location-based services simply provided one-way communication or PNDs simply provided navigation.

He points out that PND companies are integrating social networks such as Twitter, Foursquare and additional software to enable online communities to share locations with friends and to report road accidents, hidden speed cameras and traffic jams.

A month ago, TomTom signed a contract with Twitter to link the micro-blogging service to its PND devices. Jetten adds that TomTom's 2008 acquisition of Tele Atlas allowed it to start investing in technology that enables users to feed information back to TomTom.

Jetten explains that user-generated content has enabled the company to offer predictive analysis, such as forecasting traffic congestion, to help make accurate travel time predictions. TomTom's maps are updated every two minutes.

“Traffic prediction is improving constantly, because it's technology that is being driven by the community,” says Jetten.

However, the technology doesn't end with consumers. Jetten says a partnership with Tracker has enabled TomTom to provide geo-location services to South African police and has speeded up the time taken for police vehicles to get to an accident or crime scene.

Next-gen advertising

Etienne Louw, MD of Map IT, owned by Tele Atlas and Avusa, explained last week at the annual ST Group conference that users are playing an increasingly important role in mapping data sets.

He said social networking services such as Foursquare and new local geolocation services company WayTag enable people to use GPS technology to indicate their geographic position to friends.

Louw said this technology will also open the doors for geo-location advertising, citing marketing company Qkey as an example.

Qkey connects consumers with the brands that interest them. It allows users to view information about a brand on their cellphone when dialling a specific four-digit number that's displayed on a billboard.

Mobile mapping

Stephan Balte, Navigon country manager for SA, says smartphone manufacturers are increasingly integrating geo-location mapping applications into devices. This is evident particularly in Europe and the US, he notes, while SA lags three years behind.

“There is still a lot of room for new entrants in the South African PND and smartphone market,” he says. “This is despite SA being a couple of years behind in terms of smartphone penetration and having a lower average income in the market in comparison to Europe, which influences PND purchasing activities.”

Balte says that like TomTom, Navigon is investing in geolocation services. “We currently have over one million users downloading the Navigon application on the iPhone. We've also included social networking on our iPhone application. You can share your location on Facebook [and] send location-based Tweets via Twitter.”

He says these features are being driven by an increasing demand from the younger generation. “The new generation is communicating differently from a couple of years ago. Navigation will become a commodity and will also act as an advertising platform.”

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