By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
August 17, 2009

TomTom, one of the leading manufacturers of stand-alone GPS systems, rolled out its industrial strength iPhone car navigation software across the time zones Sunday, starting in New Zealand and ending with an app for the U.S. and Canadian markets early Monday.

The price, $99.99 for the app and its maps (a car mount adaptor kit is sold separately), is high for an iPhone application and puts it well above competing software-only products such as Sygic Mobile Maps ($39.99), CoPilot Live ($34.99) or the free built-in Google Map app.

But for travelers who depend on such things, it’s a better deal than AT&T’s (T) Navigator, a subscription service in which the app is free but the service adds $10 to your monthly cell phone bill for as long as you use it. (See The App Store takes a bad turn.)

TomTom’s app stirred some interest in the tech press after Apple (AAPL) selected it to be one of the featured demos at its World Wide Developers Conference in June. In addition to TomTom’s proprietary maps and the TeleAtlas, which it acquired in 2008 for $4.8 billion in a bidding war with rival Garmin (GRMN), it offers several features custom made for the iPhone OS. These include, according to its promo material:

  • Tap and go: Tap the multi-touch screen to choose your starting point and destination. Scroll through the menu, or pinch to zoom in and out on a map.
  • Meet up with friend: Find an entry in your iPhone contacts list, and the TomTom app will find the way there.
  • Find a place to eat: Choose a restaurant, call to reserve your table, then follow the directions.
  • The smartest routes: TomTom IQ Routes systen claims to calculate the smartest, most efficient route based on the collective experience of millions of drivers.

The optional car mount, whose price has not yet been published, also charges your iPhone, provides an amplified speaker for turn-by-turn instructions, lets you dial hands-free, flips to offer both horizontal and landscape orientations and adds an antenna to boost GPS reception.

Earlier versions of the TomTom app were available on some Palm (PALM) models and Pocket PCs. On the iPhone, it weighs in at a hefty 1.21 GB; you may have to clear out some songs to make room for all those maps.

Below: A video demo with Scotch tape and an Australian accent by‘s Andrew Lim.

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