Review: Gokivo flops as first turn-by-turn app for iPhone

Ugh. Don’t you hate when you get yourself all psyched about a new product and then you use it and realize it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to? That was kind of my experience with Gokivo, the first turn-by-turn GPS app for the iPhone, released on the heels of the iPhone OS 3.0 launch. Unfortunately, despite having some cool features, Gokivo just didn’t work as a turn-by-turn GPS solution. Though it did occasionally get me from point A to point B, there were so many bumps on the road that I found it better to simply use printed Google Maps directions.

Gokivo costs $0.99 to put the app on your phone, but $9.99 per month to actually use the turn-by-turn functionality of the app. Basically, its $10 a month. This confused many of the early adopters, who lambasted Networks in Motion for misleading them with a $0.99 GPS app on the App Store. Personally, I think the entire fiasco was overblown–the problem with Gokivo was not the monthly pricing (most GPS apps will charge some per-month fee for use). It was that it didn’t work.

The first problem was that it used Yahoo! Local Search to locate your destination. When I went to type in an address into the search bar, it returned nothing. Literally, I typed in my home address and I got “No Results Found.” Dazed and bewildered, I closed the app. Eventually I went back and realized that you have to actually select what type of location you are typing in – a business or an address. Wow; being a Google Maps user, I found this 1990’s technology to be the first among a long list of flaws with Gokivo. Of course, having to click “Address” or “Business” was by no means a deal-breaker: if everything else worked, this review would have been fantastic.

But it didn’t. The next step was to tap “Go!” on the marker next to my final destination, and start my engine. However, between the time I pulled out of my driveway and got onto the main road, Gokivo still hadn’t loaded my directions. OK, no problem, I thought – many GPS devices are slow. So, I stopped on the side of the road and waited. Soon, something popped up on the screen and it said “Left turn on Mission Boulevard.” Wait – I was already on Mission Boulevard. And Gokivo revealed yet another flaw: it didn’t always know where you were and it computed directions far too slowly.

The imperfect GPS caused more problems: sometimes I would be cruising along 880 (a highway in Silicon Valley) and all-of-a-sudden Gokivo would announce “re-calculating route.” Whaa? I’m on the right route. No, Gokivo didn’t know this and thought that I had taken an exit when I didn’t. So, not only did it mistake where I was, it changed the on-screen and vocal directions accordingly and so I missed my exit. It was still telling me to get on 880 when it was time to exit onto 237. This happened at least 3 times during the day. I frequently had to call my brother to give me directions to my destination.

Many of Gokivo’s flaws were related to the iPhone’s own limitations: the GPS isn’t pinpoint accurate, the iPhone doesn’t have a compass, and the speaker on the iPhone is so soft that I could barely hear Gokivo’s vocal directions. It became abundantly clear why TomTom is creating a full-blown accessory for its GPS app and will only release its app once that periphery is available. In fact, I re-watched the TomTom portion of the Apple’s WWDC keynote to find out what TomTom was putting in its TomTom car kit. Oh, and will you look at that: “securely dock your iPhone,” “enhance your GPS signal,” “built-in loud speaker” and a “microphone for hands-free calling.” They solved every problem with the Gokivo turn-by-turn experience. Can’t wait to get my hands on one.

In fairness, Gokivo wasn’t all bad. If they fixed the whole making-it-do-what-it’s-supposed-to-do part, it may have been a good app. It warns you when traffic incidents were forthcoming, it has clear turn-by-turn voice instructions (just remember to plug it into your car stereo or wear some headphones), and it has a detour feature so you can avoid the aforementioned traffic incidents. So, it comes with all of the extras that make a good GPS application, but the fact that it doesn’t do its job of getting you from point A to point B means it isn’t worth the hefty $9.99 per month price tag.

And, frankly, there will be many GPS apps to come. AT&T has already come out with their own GPS app. We’re reviewing it now and will let you know what we think. Until then, I’d recommend holding off on a turn-by-turn navigation app.

What we like:

  • Clear voice instructions. The robotic female voice shouted out clear instructions and even gave you a look-ahead to the next street if it was coming up soon (i.e. “Turn left on Mission Boulevard, then prepare to turn right.”)
  • Navigation for the iPhone. I guess some navigation is better than none? If you want to have real navigation, I’d wait until a good one comes out.
  • Detour and Recalculating route features. It would guide you away from a traffic incident and recalculate your route when you went off-course. Unfortunately, it also recalculated the route when you didn’t go off-course.

What we didn’t like:

  • Didn’t work. A GPS app has one job: guide you from point A to point B. This app didn’t do it for us.
  • Volume. The directions lady was just too soft for me to hear without a headset or an in-car hookup.
  • Slow. The app took forever to load and sometimes timed out while trying. Call me spoiled, but I want my GPS to load the directions before I get out on the main road.