NICK BUNKLEY

Why a new phone trumps GM's $200 map

Automotive News | July 13, 2013 - 12:01 am EST

Three years ago, I bought a car with an in-dash navigation system.

I hate it.

I got it mainly because I preferred the touch screen to the ugly standard audio system that Chevrolet offered at the time. Plus, it came as part of a reasonably priced package that included other things I wanted.

But I hate it.

It obnoxiously locks out many functions when the car is moving in a misguided attempt at safety, meaning you have to pull over to enter a destination even if there's a passenger who could do it for you. It takes forever to page through the different menus and either input an address or search through the points of interest, which may or may not include whatever you're trying to find.

And, at least on my unit, the screen's touch sensor is misaligned just enough so that most times when I try to zoom in, it instead saves the current location to the address book. The dozens of randomly located "pushpins" that have accumulated serve as a monument to my frustration.

Most laughably, General Motors demands $200 to update the thing with new maps. That is, coincidentally, the same price Apple charges for each new version of the iPhone when it comes out. I know which one I'd rather spend $200 on.

Whenever I need to find an unfamiliar location, I ignore the in-dash screen and pull out my iPhone. The Google Maps app on the iPhone is incredibly easy to use, always up-to-date and a wealth of quickly searchable information. Google is even rolling out a free upgrade to the app this month.

GM's chief technology officer for OnStar, Tim Nixon, told Bloomberg News that even his own sons used their iPhones rather than the in-dash screen.

"We've historically had these onboard embedded nav systems," Nixon told Bloomberg. "That's just not going to cut it anymore. The game has changed and the bar has been raised by these always-connected devices that bring fresh information into the car."

The auto industry is still struggling with how to keep up with the rapid advances in technology that can make parts of a 3-year-old car obsolete. GM and other automakers have made substantial improvements to their navigation and infotainment systems since I bought my car, but most still have a long way to go before matching what a smartphone offers.

Chevrolet now offers MyLink, which lets drivers access some functions of their phones through the in-dash touch screen. But while new buyers can get MyLink to display their phone's navigation app on its screen for $50, GM is still trying to sell $200 map discs to those of us with previous-generation models.

Sorry, GM. I don't need it. Besides, I already spent the money on a new iPhone.

Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.

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