App review: TomTom Places (iPhone)

On: October 10, 2011
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About Floris Spronk
I am a 24-year-old Dutch New Media MA student living in the city centre of Amsterdam. I completed the New Media BA course back in 2010, also at the University of Amsterdam. Besides following the MA program, I work as a New Media communications assistant for a political party.

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What makes a good app? Does it have to be groundbreaking and revolutionary, extremely useful, addictive or just nice and decent? For the last few days I’ve been testing an app that might not be very revolutionary but is definitely very useful and decent.

The app is called TomTom Places, launched last august and available in five languages. It’s an addition to the normal TomTom navigational apps. And it’s for free, in contrast with it’s big brothers which are some of the most expensive apps out there. TomTom Places is an easy-to-use GPS map app which will let you search your surroundings (if you like, ofcourse you can also search within other cities) for all kind of ‘destinations’. It’s not primarly designed for navigating addresses (even though it’s possible), but really focuses on shops, clubs, services or other ‘listed’ places. (Plus there’s an online version).

Most prominent are the special buttons at the bottom of the screen, you can use these ‘speed dials’ to find an ATM (no need anymore for a special ‘pinautomaat’ app) a parking space, a supermarket (like Appie, but with more chains) or a restaurant. These buttons can’t be personalized, but it’s pretty obvious that these are the most sought after destinations in unknown urban territory.

Next to that you can fill in your own searches. It will recognize most of the common ones, like ‘barber’, ‘hotel’ or ‘shoes’ and ‘dvd’s’, these even have their own nifty icons. It will also recognize these in your own language. So if you’re in rural France, away from all civilization and English speaking people, a search for ‘baker’ (or in Dutch: bakker) will still lead you to your daily bread.

But if you’re looking for something more specific you can search for certain brands too, for example, a search for ‘Siemens’ renders several electronic and phone stores in the neighborhood. Different search results also give different colors: restaurants are orange, doctors are red, hotels purple or shops green. It’s those details that make this app stand out.

The app get’s its information from different sources. For instance, it uses The Yellow Pages if you’re looking for a business or a shop. But it also adds extra information, like a short summary or a customer review with restaurants.

TomTom Places on the left, Google Maps on the right, with a search for a hairdresser (Kapper).

Once you’ve found your desired destination, the app will show you the way step by step. Not in the usual TomTom way, with the semi-3D, corner by corner view, but with oldschool arrows on a map. It’s especially designed to show you the way on foot, if you’re in your car you can use the app too, but you are ‘advised’ to use (or: buy) the normal TomTom app, which will set you back a lot of euro’s. A nice addition though are the marked traffic jams, real life updated as big red ‘danger zones’.

So, it’s very nifty and nice, but as I said, it’s not revolutionary. Most of these things you can do with your own (standard) Google Maps application. Or, if you’re willing to spend a few euro’s (or bucks) in the App Store you can download commercial versions like Waarheen (English: Where to go?) that will practically let you do the same things, with more options.

But, compared to Google Maps I still think this one wins in user-friendliness. It’s preprogrammed search options make it a lot easier and it’s quite fast and looks good. It’s not very up-to-date, but good enough to get around. Also, but that’s my personal taste, I really like the maps used in TomTom Places, the colors are nicer, it’s more detailed and it just looks better than it’s Google Maps counterpart.

So, yes, it’s a nice app and I will definitely use this one. But it makes you longing for more: why can’t we integrate all the information we need in an app like this? When does that super-power-app come around? An app, that will let you search for almost everything in your surroundings, let’s you calculate the public transport routes (like 9292ov), gives you very detailed information about the restaurant (menu, all kinds of reviews, like IENS 2.0), show s the best sightseeing tips or allows you to buy tickets at the local cinema (like Pathé). You can find hotels with this app, but why can’t you immediately book a room? (like Expedia Hotels). And so on. Now those options are all separately available, but I would love to see it all inside one app. Will it ever be possible? If I find it, I’ll tell you, I promise.

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