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Hands On With TeleNav Scout in a 2012 Ford Edge
We go for a short ride around Manhattan to get a closer look at TeleNav’s newly developed in-car system—and it’s pretty revolutionary.
TeleNav’s new Scout for Apps service is available to mobile Web and app developers starting today, but it’s the future that has the company—and us—excited.
TeleNav has been in the middle of a transition for some time now, from its traditional phone-based GPS apps, to a new socially enhanced, platform agnostic service called Scout. The free Scout by TeleNav mobile app is already out for iOS, and has been available since December. The same goes for www.scout.me, a personalized Web-based dashboard introduced at CES 2012. It lets you set up routes, find events, and share destinations with friends, and then transfer that information to the free Scout phone app to take with you.
What’s different now is apps.scout.me, a new service aimed at mobile Web and app developers that lets them integrate navigation into their own creations. The URL is live, but it’s not really powerful enough to use as a main GPS app yet. Instead, it’s what’s underneath that’s significant: Scout for Apps is the first browser-based, HTML5 GPS app to offer voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation—the result of what TeleNav originally announced it was working on back in December. Developers of travel and shopping apps, as well as anyone whose app involves points of interest and addresses, can add this functionality to their own apps and websites with a single line of code.
You can also see the new browser-based navigation as part of www.scout.me; head over there, find an event or destination, select Navigate, and then choose “phone” or “email” to send the link to someone, as well as post it on Facebook or Twitter. Anyone who clicks on it will then see voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation. Right now, Scout for Apps is purely an iPhone play, although an Android-optimized version like the one we saw today will be available later this year.
TeleNav’s First In-Car System
That’s pretty powerful stuff right there. But as we mentioned back in January, TeleNav also has its sights on the automotive sector, with the first TeleNav-compatible cars coming by Q3 2012 from Ford via App Link. To demonstrate Scout working in tandem with its fancy new in-car system, TeleNav showed up at PCMag in a heavily Scoutified 2012 Ford Edge, so naturally we went for a spin. In the demo vehicle, TeleNav cobbled together a pretty sophisticated setup using Bluetooth—which we’ve never seen before—to transmit vector-based map data, though Scout can also work over Wi-Fi in the car.
Amusingly, TeleNav played a little switcheroo with the operating systems. Ford Sync is normally Microsoft-powered, but in the demo vehicle we rode around in, TeleNav put together a concept setup running on Ubuntu Linux, hooked via Bluetooth to a Motorola Droid RAZR (see slideshow). TeleNav’s system does work with Microsoft’s in-car OS as well, of course; this setup was purely for demonstration purposes, but it was still amusing, at least to this geek.
TeleNav has plenty of experience squeezing lots of data through smaller data pipes, as they’ve been providing real-time GPS navigation on phones for years, back when 4G was a pipe dream. The idea is for car manufacturers to buy into this system. By 2014, every car sold in the U.S. will have a backup camera, which means every car will have at least some kind of small LCD screen. If TeleNav has its way, you could then leverage that screen by broadcasting TeleNav from your phone. TeleNav also uses the phone as a proxy, for syncing favorites, Home, Work, and other addresses from the Web site and phone with the car.
Will the Auto Industry Bite?
In our brief demo drive, TeleNav performed as well as we’ve always seen from the company’s various mobile apps. The difference here was in having such a large, roomy interface and map view with which to work. For example, we put up a list of upcoming turns ahead alongside the map view, which still looked large on the Edge’s built-in LCD screen. Each road in that list had a little “traffic speed” indicator, showing that traffic was moving at 10mph on East 28th Street, 11mph on 3rd Avenue, and so on, which was very useful—imagine being able to avoid an upcoming road based on that kind of real-time data, instead of letting the navigation app decide for you without you knowing why.
Adding favorites on the dashboard display meant they also popped up immediately in the phone, even though the two are using completely different interfaces; it’s far more sophisticated than a simple mirroring of the two displays. And the voice boomed through the car’s speakers as expected (though this in and of itself isn’t new; any car audio system with stereo Bluetooth support could beam over navigation app audio from a phone as is).
Overall, we have high hopes for Scout. It ties phone and in-car systems together in a way we haven’t quite seen before, and in a way that could finally bring together nicely integrated, easy-to-touch dashboard LCDs with inexpensive phone GPS. TeleNav said that in a finished system (though not the one we tried today), when your phone connects to the dashboard, the car will use its own more accurate GPS instead of the phone’s tiny chip. But will the car manufacturers allow this? TeleNav said early indications are they’re more receptive than before, and the same goes for second-tier OEMs currently responsible for building the existing, fixed navigation systems available as expensive options.
Right off the bat, TeleNav’s setup allows for navigation in a much lower cost fashion, but it’s also powerful enough for high-end systems as well—and TeleNav is already starting with a pretty sophisticated interface. Here’s hoping we see more of this as the year goes on.
For more from Jamie, follow him on Twitter: @jlendino.
By Jamie Lendino, PCMag