The developers missed the targeted October release date, but at last, NAVIGON’s MobileNavigator has released the update that makes the Traffic Live in-app purchase available. AppAdvice jumped right on it and $20 later, I got to take the feature for a test drive earlier today.
The timing was right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it), so I headed out at 5:30pm in Atlanta rush hour traffic. Add in a dash of early darkness due to the recent time change and some pouring rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, and you have a traffic disaster…the perfect environment to test the Traffic Live feature.
In case you missed my review of MobileNavigator, I think it’s the best navigation app in the App Store so far. The addition of a non-subscription based traffic service is a huge bonus. Subscription fees can really hit users in the wallet over time, so the addition of a one-time $20 purchase creates huge promise for MobileNavigator. But does it deliver?
Traffic Live integrates seamlessly with MobileNavigator. Once your destination is set, congested areas show with red arrows and are accompanied by icons to let you know an incident has occurred. In theory, if your primary route takes you through a congested area, MobileNavigator will give users the option to reroute around them, though I never got the option to re-route. (More on that in a bit.)
In the map view, users can tap on the icon for Traffic Live to get an itemized list of traffic hazards and congestion in their area. Road closures are marked in red and tapping on any item in the list will give more details about the traffic incident, including a 2D map view of the area and a description of where the incident begins and ends. This is a handy feature, especially if you just wanted to take a glance at the commute home before leaving work, for example. Here in Georgia, the DOT has a website for this, but one cool thing about Traffic Live is that it knows where you are and it can tailor the incident list so that the incidents closest to your location appear first. Handy.
This traffic incident list is easily accessible from the main menu as well thanks to the ability to customize MobileNavigator’s bottom toolbar. New traffic alerts even show up as badges on the traffic icon. One downer to customizing the toolbar is that the Main Menu item and the Contacts item are fixed and can’t be moved. That leaves only two customizable slots on a five-item toolbar, which is not as much toolbar customization as it is a toolbar tweak.
Another great feature is that Traffic Live (with your permission) will automatically send anonymous data about your location and speed to MobileNavigator’s traffic servers. This means that not only are you benefiting from the traffic data transmitted by other cars on the road, but they are benefitting from your travel data as well. The more people that use MobileNavigator, the more robust traffic data will naturally become.
The only downside I see to sending this data is that it requires a nearly constant data connection, which I would imagine could cause a significant strain on the battery. My iPhone gets noticeably warm when using GPS for longer periods of time anyway, so adding a steady data connection on top of that load may be akin to inviting a sumo wrestler to a buffet dinner. After a while, there won’t be much battery left for anything else. So again, if you rely on your iPhone for regular navigation in your car, you’re just simply going to need a mount and a charger. Period.
In terms of accuracy, I was initially disappointed, but I feel like maybe I should reserve a bit of judgement here. Let me explain.
As I mentioned, my wife and I decided to run our errands and test Traffic Live in some really, really nasty rainy rush hour traffic today. As soon as we left our neighborhood, we hit congestion, which was an immediate indication of how bad the traffic was since traffic is almost never backed up in front of our neighborhood. Meanwhile, MobileNavigator showed that everything was normal. Bummer. We were staring at a 2 mile backup of solid red brake lights and Traffic Live showed nothing to indicate that traffic was congested.
Traffic Live “utilizes crowdsourced real-time speed data from over 1.3 million drivers including other NAVIGON app users [...], commercial fleets such as trucks and taxis, as well as regular drivers with a GPS system.” So you’d think that the congestion on our major suburban thoroughfare would have shown up. Even so, I want to give it a few more chances over the next several weeks to see if traffic info gets any better. Since the service is so new, I’m admitting I have to base this review off only my first couple of errands with it.
So when I saw that the traffic congestion we were stuck in was not visible on MobileNavigator, I got curious and I switched over to the Maps app to see what Google thought of our current traffic situation. I was stunned. Pleasantly. I took two screenshots of the congestion at the same intersection about 30 seconds apart. The first screenshot is from MobileNavigator and the second is from Google Maps. I think the screenshots speak for themselves. MobileNavigator was oblivious, but Google Maps was dead on accurate in depicting the congestion. Check it out:
Clearly, whatever info Google has is currently way, way more accurate than Traffic Live. We’ve explored rumors about Google possibly releasing a navigation app. After using Traffic Live and comparing it live to info from Google, I’m very convinced that if Google ever released a turn-by-turn navigation app, it would immediately be able to go toe to toe with the big boys like NAVIGON and TomTom and possibly bury them since it would likely be free or ad-supported.
Hey, I want to tell you to purchase this add-on so that you can be a part of the network that reports on traffic conditions and thereby makes all of our commutes better. However, deciding whether or not this add-on would be worth it to you likely depends on how you would use it.
I think it is VERY important to support the reasonably priced one-time fee model for traffic data. Garmin charges $10-$12/month for their traffic subscription service which likely pulls info from many of the same traffic databases as MobileNavigator does. I won’t even bother mentioning other exorbitant traffic alternatives from goobers like AT&T.
So if you consider the context, this add-on is a really great deal. As for the info it provides, from what I saw today, I’d have to say that some commuters will benefit from it more than others. If your travels are mostly on major roadways such as interstates, it appears as though Traffic Live could definitely help you out a lot at a very reasonable, up-front price. If that’s you, download it now. And if you are considering purchasing a new GPS system, read the review for MobileNavigator and consider MobileNavigator + Traffic Live as a serious alternative to a standalone unit that would charge you monthly for traffic subscriptions.
For you casual users or for those who have more suburban commutes, it would currently seem that Traffic Live may not be at its full potential just yet due to a lower number of users in lesser populated areas. So if there is a fender-bender on Main Street, MobileNavigator wouldn’t seem to be very helpful to you…yet (at least not as helpful as Google maps).
If any of you purchase Traffic Live, please share your experiences here and I will certainly post any new discoveries I make as well.