Elon, please switch to Google Navigation!

Almost everything about Tesla’s car is awesome.

Except one thing: the navigation software is awful.

Sorry, Elon. I’m a big fan and a happy Model S owner, but there is no way to sugarcoat it. I have taken Google Maps, which I consider to be the gold standard for a responsive, accurate, intuitive and generally pleasant navigation system, and ran it side-by-side with Tesla’s system for almost a month now. Tesla lost at almost every turn (pun not intended, but unfortunately accurate.)

I keep running into a number of user experience-destroying issues:

  • it is slow/sluggish — it is often inexplicably late in announcing turns
  • it appears to misjudge distances and not adjust announcement times for travel speed, something that given the additional wheel data (vs. just GPS on my iPhone) it should have no problem being really good at
  • the synthesized voice is not clean and has synthesis artifacts one would only expect in cheap GPS add-ons
  • occasional lack of synchronization between the dashboard mini-map and center console map, while technically explainable (they run from different data sources, ironically one of them being Google) is baffling
  • traffic data is often out of date or just plain wrong — on multiple occasions Google Maps would reroute around closed roads while Tesla would happily pretend they were open
  • place of interest search results are incomplete or outdated — Tesla’s system repeatedly listed restaurants or stores that have been closed a long time ago
  • despite having wheel sensors, the system would occasionally place me on the wrong road, which does have safety implications (beyond just getting lost); I have experienced the auto-pilot suddenly slowing down in anticipation of a turn on the highway I wasn’t on — the turn was on the next highway over.

I understand why Tesla may think of navigation as ‘core technology’ and how some of the data collected by the cars may provide Tesla with competitive advantages worth protecting. It cannot, however, come at the cost of destroying one of the key elements of the basic user experience of a modern car. As it stands now, most cars with a good interface to Google’s navigation system (Android Auto) are going to win in an honest a side-by-side navigation system usability comparison.

Google has demonstrated that it has the information and computation resources to do it “right” — it has become a de-facto navigation utility. Tesla is unlikely to successfully compete against it, which is why I believe it should leverage and augment it, just like it leverages and augments the electrical utility power grid.

Two final notes:

  1. Yes, I have been in touch with Tesla and had various parts of the system checked out, without much improvement. I also had an identical experience in loaner cars, so I’m fairly certain that this unfortunately is a systemic problem.
  2. The fact that Google has risen to the status of a navigation utility does of course raise many interesting questions of competitive and antitrust nature, but that’s another topic…
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