Analyst: How TomTom Orbis Maps is a 'big step forward' for the mobility industry
Matthew Beedham·May 03, 2024

Analyst: How TomTom Orbis Maps is a 'big step forward' for the mobility industry

Matthew Beedham
May 03, 2024 · 7 min read
SBD Automotive’s verdict on TomTom Orbis Maps | TomTom Newsroom

The mobility industry is undergoing one of its biggest shifts. Carmakers are evolving how they work, demanding new technologies and redefining relationships with their partners, while this creates waves of opportunity it’s not without its challenges. We sat down with Andrew Hart, CEO of industry research firm SBD Automotive, to learn more and understand how TomTom Orbis Maps is playing an important role in defining and supporting this transition.

Today, drivers expect their in-vehicle experience to integrate seamlessly with their digital lives and provide stunning visuals. Regulations and sustainability targets are encouraging the move to electric powertrains. And with those come the biggest change in driving since the car was invented.

Hart says the shift is so significant that the industry can no longer be defined as purely automotive but is now closer to ‘mobility’. Even that word still requires some definition of its own, though.

“At SBD, we’ve just completed a series of internal interviews to explore what ‘mobility’ means to different people. It’s fascinating to listen to people’s stories about where mobility fits in their lives.”

Consumers desire vehicles that provide more than just a tool to get from A to B, but something that helps them move through their life, this is becoming a common theme. It’s also one of the main challenges automakers face — how to make travel easier, simpler and more connected to their drivers’ lives.

in-car, experience, navigation, TomTom Digital CockpitNavigation is a familiar use for maps in the car, but more and more drivers want features that connect to their digital lives, like their agenda, music streaming and weather apps.

“You can always plot your entire life journey alongside mobility. A lot of people started talking about the role mobility played in their youngest memories, talking about the car their parents drove, the journeys they took to go on holiday, their first car and its backdrop to their first romance. Many people relate their first car to their first relationship,” Hart explains.

Mobility then, unlike automotive, is less about just making metal boxes we call cars, but about something much deeper. It’s about exploring the world and, “how you stay connected to your family and loved ones,” Hart adds.

“That is what the industry is trying to deliver — if you look at all carmakers’ vision statements, they all relate to mobility, more so than the metal boxes that were cars long ago.”

Maps as tools of connection

Maps have long helped us understand our world and connect to one and other — they are extremely primal. From cave paintings showing where food and water is to the ocean maps of travel and trade that boomed in the 1600s, maps are a window to our world.

Today, maps are the secret behind most of the world’s most loved consumer apps — navigation, food delivery, ride-hailing, gaming and even dating apps. In the business world, fleets, logistics companies and last-mile delivery firms all need accurate, rich and up-to-date maps to operate and optimize their business.

Beautiful visualization TomTom Orbis MapsMaps don't look like they used to. They're getting more and more realistic by the second.

We know they’re needed for navigation, but for the modern carmaker, who is going electric and building engaging in-vehicle experiences, maps have never been more important. Maps connect all aspects of all kinds of journeys, not just the ones we drive.

“Staying connected really relies on knowing very well where you are and where you want to get to and everything that’s in between. I believe that’s the objective with all of this, and that’s where car companies have realized that maps are core to delivering on their vision,” Hart says.

From vision to reality

One of the main reasons the automotive and mobility industry is evolving, Hart explains, is because of changes in how cars are made — there are fewer technological and engineering constraints.

“For many years, there’s been a close coupling of hardware and software in the car. When you wanted to launch a new feature, you’d fit a new box of hardware and software to deliver that feature. If you wanted to launch other features, you’d put another box in the car. You’d just end up adding more and more boxes,” Hart says.

Today though, with integrated and connected systems, we see a more service-oriented architecture. One where a central computer controls all aspects of the car and new features can be added simply with over-the-air software updates.

Maps, and how they’re used in the car, have undergone a similar transformation.

In the early days, maps were on CD-ROMs and SD Cards, static and unchangeable. You’d view them on your PC, plan your route and print out turn-by-turn instructions. As maps were integrated into the car, this experience also moved into the vehicle, but maps remained siloed, disconnected from the rest of the vehicle. They could provide navigation and not much more, updates were lengthy manual procedures that often needed to be conducted at a dealership.

“TomTom brought that [the map] into the car, in a much more flexible format and then moved it from being linked to physical storage to be more cloud driven. TomTom Orbis Maps takes that one step further,” Hart says. “What we see happening now is more abstraction of different data layers within maps, to provide more flexibility to carmakers, OEMs and suppliers.”

Comprised of open and proprietary data, and being built on an open standard, TomTom Orbis Maps is bringing more than just the richest, freshest map data, it’s bringing flexibility, ease of use and interoperability.

“That flexibility is critical,” Hart says.

TomTom LayersTomTom Orbis Maps is an expertly curated blend of data abstracted for the most important use cases.

“Not everyone needs everything or the same thing. When it comes to maps, being able to have a more agile approach, building upon layers, and enabling car companies to bring their own data, and build from a common reference, is what really matters,” he adds. This, of course, can only be achieved through open and collaborative mapping.

The idea that’s driving the world to map the world

TomTom’s open map strategy is bold. As an industry, mapmaking has been built on proprietary tech to develop the best map data. That was fine when feature development took months or even years, and it was impossible to update maps more than once or twice a year. Now though, people expect maps to be up-to-date, down to the minute and they expect constant and continual improvement.

“Maybe 20 years ago, it made sense for everyone to create their own base level map and have a different way of describing that very bottom layer of the map to differentiate themselves, but now it doesn’t make sense,” Hart says.

The solution, TomTom says, is collaborative mapmaking where the industry works together to define a standard, create a shared reference map and bring the world of map data together. This principle comes to life in TomTom Orbis Maps, which is built on that common standard and blends proprietary and open data to create a rich and detailed map, that can integrate seamlessly with all kinds of location tech and applications.

How TomTom Orbis Maps stands out from the crowd

“With TomTom Orbis Maps I notice three key elements that directly address what the mobility industry is asking for.

One is greater flexibility offered by map and location data SDKs and APIs, which allow for a much more customizable experience, one that’s not tied to the old black box structure and allows users to bring their own data.

TOmTom APIs and SDKSTomTom Orbis Maps is accessible via SDKs, APIs, applications and developer tools

The second is around the experience of the map. Things like better search, visuals, freshness, coverage, guidance and AI tools are the kinds of iterations and improvements that match what customers are expecting across a big footprint of the world. As carmakers and mobility companies from Europe, China and the U.S. expand into new markets, global coverage is ever more important too.

The third element that stands out to me is the Overture Foundation. In theory, common definitions of the lowest-level map should drive down costs and increase quality and coverage.”

As TomTom Orbis Maps goes global and the Overture Foundation constantly brings on new members, TomTom’s map and platform are only gaining strength in the areas that Hart highlights. In another recent interview, Michael Harrell, TomTom’s SVP of Maps Engineering, said this constant improvement, and the speed at which it improves the map, is a central feature of Orbis Maps and the driving force putting it on track to be the world’s best map.

“It’s absolutely the right step forward,” Hart concludes.

*SBD Automotive offer expert research, strategy and testing services for the automotive and mobility world. Its research has helped OEMS, suppliers, carmakers and governments develop safer and more sustainable mobility tech. You can read more about what SBD does by clicking here.

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