Embedded Navigation vs. Smartphone Apps: Which Approach Goes the Distance?

When it comes to digital driving assistance, two approaches are common: Embedded navigation and smartphone applications. In this piece, we'll break down the key differences and examine the growing gap between embedded and smartphone functionality.

Paper maps have been replaced by digital alternatives that help drivers get from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible. Now commonplace for both individual users and company fleets, these solutions make it possible to plan real-time routes that avoid potential hazards and keep trips on time. 

When it comes to digital driving assistance, two approaches are common: Embedded navigation and smartphone applications. In this piece, we’ll break down the key differences and examine the growing gap between embedded and smartphone functionality. 

Smartphone App vs. Embedded Navigation: What’s the Difference? 

Smartphone applications, such as those from Google or Apple, provide optimal route marking, estimated time arrivals, and voice navigation to help drivers get where they’re going. As noted by Insider Intelligence, more than 67% of smartphone owners now use map and navigation apps to help them get where they’re going. 

Embedded navigation tools, meanwhile, are included by OEMs as part of a vehicle’s equipment package. They often take the form of digital touch screens that leverage data from multiple sources, including the vehicle’s GPS and speedometer, along with current traffic and route data via WiFi or LTE connections to help generate optimal routes and respond to changes in real time. 

While these embedded tools were previously reserved for high-end vehicle packages, democratization of technology driven by falling component costs and enhanced compute capacities have made embedded tools a familiar feature in everything from entry-level vehicles to luxury cars and truck fleets. 

Potential Smartphone Pitfalls 

The rapid uptake of smartphone apps suggests potential competition for embedded navigation. If drivers can simply use their smartphone, rather than relying on in-car systems, they can take maps and routes with them wherever they go. 

Smartphones, however, also come with potential pitfalls, such as: 

No integration 

Smartphones provide user-centric, high-level navigation but can’t integrate with in-vehicle networks or powertrains to deliver additional safety features such as haptic feedback or visual cues.

Internet dependency 

Smartphone apps require an Internet connection to provide on-demand map access, making them useless in areas with no coverage.

Variable reliability

Since smartphones exist outside vehicle ecosystems, they’re not stress- or safety-tested the same way. This means they could unexpectedly shut down in conditions of extreme heat or cold — for example, a phone attached to the windshield on a summer’s day could abruptly go dark if it overheats. 

Screen size and sound 

The small size of smartphone screens can make them difficult to read, and their sound can’t compete with that of in-car systems. Smartphones can also prove a distraction for drivers trying to navigate challenging conditions.

Embedded Navigation Benefits 

Embedded navigation can help offset these problems and offers benefits such as: 

Clear notifications 

Embedded tools can display clear and concise notifications for drivers using heads-up or digital cluster displays.

Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) 

Customized HMIs for embedded navigation can help your brand stand out from the competition and increase total sales.

Anytime, anywhere maps 

Even when there’s no Internet connection, pre-installed maps are available.

Full system integration 

Integration with infotainment systems, such as sound and voice, allows embedded systems to easily deliver driver notifications. This integration also makes it possible to provide predictive guidance, centimeter-accurate lane-level visualization, and real-time state of charge and range calculation for electric vehicles.

What’s Next for Navigation? 

Both regulatory and market forces now play a role in the evolution of embedded navigation. 

Consider the introduction of intelligent speed assistance (ISA) systems across the EU, which provide audio or haptic feedback to drivers when they reach designated speed limits. As of July 2022, ISAs were required for all new vehicle models introduced on the market and will become mandatory in all new cars sold after July 2024. For these systems to exercise effectiveness, robust navigational data is required, especially in areas where speed limits are implicitly rather than explicitly enforced, such as entering a populated area or highway. Here, smartphone navigation isn’t sufficient, since these devices can’t connect directly to ISA systems. 

On the market side of this equation, the uptick of electric vehicle (EV) sales is tied to the increasing use of embedded navigation. Here’s why: 

One of the primary concerns for EV drivers is range – how far can they go under current conditions, and where can they charge? Embedded navigation tools make it possible for drivers to receive precise estimates of remaining battery life, along with details about the nearest charging station and how long charging will take. 

Bottom line? 

While smartphone navigation is often simple, it can’t compete with embedded alternatives for accuracy, privacy, and predictive route models that help drivers get where they’re going — and make sure they get there on time. 


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