The terrible state of automobile navigation systems

We've been road-tripping in the Prius. The posts about the trip will resume shortly now that the computer is back online. In the meantime I have several observations about the lackluster GPS and navigation system in the Toyota Prius. As far as I know it is the same system in all Toyotas. For some things it is great. In other ways it is horrible.

Seeing the country

This is our first trip into new country with the GPS. Actually I was in many places we're visiting twenty years ago but I haven't driven the area at all. The navigation system has an interesting effect. On one hand it knows the destination and is good about getting you there. Since I put in an address each morning marking that night's resting place I don't spend as much time with a map and thinking about the directions along the way. The Toyota system has a few options such as allowing you to choose from two quick routes or one short route. The short route choice nearly always results in seeing parts of a route that one wouldn't choose when looking at a map. Ironically at the same time because one doesn't need to study the map before getting to town to know where to find the night's lodging I don't have the same sense of many towns as I otherwise would.

Route finding is poor

The route finding capabilities leave a lot to be desired. The system does OK if I tell it where to go and pick the right order. There are still large gaps outside of large cities and even many small roads that show up on the map are unknown to the navigation system. But if I want to go to some place and make some stops along the way the route planning leaves a lot to be desired. Earlier we took a sightseeing trip and the system was useless in helping find the route. The other thing that any great navigation system should do is help with route planning. At the minimum it should take a list of points and offer a logical approach to reaching those points in a sensible sequence. A system would get bonus points for using real-time information to plan routes based on traffic information.

And it is only in the car which seems like a strange thing to say about an automotive navigation system. However, we do much planning over dinner or in a hotel room and it would be most useful to do that planning, settle on a route, and then either plug the navigation system in to the car or upload the route from my iPhone. A really good system would then upload the results of a day's travels into the computer for later posting on a blog or keeping notes for future trips. Like a phone lists the last time you got a call from a particular number it could tell you the last time you visited a specific spot. Again there would be bonus points for a system that learns the average speed I drive on frequently driven roads and applies those speeds to calculating the arrival time on a particular route. Super bonus points to the system that calculates my speed as a fraction of the speed limit for a given type of road and applies that to unknown roads.

The iPod navigator

So ultimately I want an iPod style navigation system that will plug in to the car, use the GPS built in to the car, and record the information or allow me to plan the route from the comfort of my disconnected spot. Again there are bonus points available here. The ultimate system allows me to pull up a sightseeing tour of some type and it puts the associated route in the system. For example a podcast could have a tour included or a great book that chronicles a trip can be supplemented with a route for readers to re-create the trip. With the next great advancement of geocoding segments in a podcast it can even play the appropriate section as you pass each point in the tour.