disappointing satnav

One of my hobbies is motorcycling. I have travelled extensively by bike in central and southern europe over many years, but oddly, I have never visited scotland before. I intend rectifying that shortly. When travelling in europe I have always made do with the excellent Michelin range of 1/1000000 (1 cm to 10 km) maps. These maps are of sufficient detail to aid serious navigation and they also fold quite neatly to fit in a motorcycle tank bag top. Never before have I felt the need of a GPS satnav device.

My wife, however, has a TomTom in her car and I noted that the device has two distinct advantages over a static map. Firstly it is immensely useful in the “last 5 mile stage” when you are hunting for a B&B in an unfamilar town, and secondly (of most use when in trouble) it has a “where am I” function that pinpoints location so that you can give your co-ordinates to a rescue service. This latter function is reassuring to someone travelling alone (or to someone left behind by someone travelling alone). So, since I shall be travelling alone in Scotland over some wild and windy expanses where the weather is notoriously less predictably friendly than it is in southern europe at this time of year, I saw the sense in getting a satnav. I bought a garmin (small, light and cheap). Mine even came with a free lifetime subscription to map updates. The device itself is a doddle to set up and works very well. But it has a fatal design flaw – all software and map updates assume that you have a microsoft windows or apple OSX desktop at home. Well, guess what. I don’t.

The garmin update mechanism uses a plugin to IE, firefox, safari or chrome. But only if you are using a “compatible” operating system. No matter how hard I tried to fool the site using a user agent switcher I couldn’t get the plugin to work. I even tried using wine (which according to one or two sites on-line) should have worked, but no, garmin refused to play ball. I can happily mount the satnav as a removable drive on my linux desktop so copying maps (or even software) to the device should be easy.

Now this is more than just a little irritating. I have paid for a device with a “lifetime map update licence”. But I can’t update the maps without a PC running a particular OS. I’m pretty sure that garmin satnavs run a version of embedded linux so the company cannot pretend they have no linux expertise. Worse, they can produce a plugin for OSX machines (which is BSD based) but not something which is debian based.

Garmin, I am disappointed. And annoyed as hell.

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    • Peter on 2012/05/14 at 11:44 am

    Mine is both more and less proprietary – I use a TomTom app on an iPhone. It’s more proprietary as you have to buy into the Apple platform, but less because you do not need any other device to access the application store or map updates (although you need to be near a fat WiFi link for a full update as the included maps make it *massive*.

    What I like about TomTom is the smaller map corrections and live traffic stuff – the latter is fairly sparse in its use of Internet access you you don’t get a massive roaming bill when traveling. What I dislike is the TomTom GUI. I am certain the people who designed this must only walk everywhere, it demands FAR too much interaction. But hey, it works.

    Good luck with the bike :).

    • Mick on 2012/05/19 at 9:25 pm


    Thanks. I think I picked the worst week imaginable to tour Scotland by bike. Permanent rain and temperatures close to zero. Every place I stopped, they said “you should have been here in March.”

    Nice roads though.

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