When the first personal navigation devices (PNDs) arrived in 2009, an auto magazine editor told me they were not really needed, since India was still a country where, to reach an unfamiliar destination, you had only to roll down your vehicle's window and ask someone the way.
No doubt, that has not changed. But navigation devices have become cheaper and much better than before. Driving, without having to stop every few hundred metres to seek directions, is so much easier.
Even an editor with Business Today
who does not himself drive has fallen in love with his PND. He no longer has to depend on his driver's awareness of the city's topography - or lack thereof - to reach wherever he needs to. And while I pride myself on having a good sense of direction, I recently found myself grateful for the pre-installed navigator on my Mahindra XUV5OO while driving in an area where I did not know the roads. I was surprised at how accurate it was.
The MapMyIndia system on the XUV5OO has some oddities - it uses the term 'rotary' for instance when it means 'roundabout'. And once, it did direct me into a rather narrow alley. But that was because the settings had been optimised to find the shortest route, not the most practical one. Settings can be easily changed.
Another system from the Dutch manufacturer, TomTom, that I recently tested beeped like crazy when I took the recently constructed Raj Ghat bypass in New Delhi, as it assumed I was in the middle of the Yamuna river. But these are minor quibbles.
There are also smartphones now with built-in PNDs. I am currently totally in love with the Nokia Drive on Nokia's new Lumia devices. But it will not work if your phone starts ringing while you are driving, or you choose to make a call - which in any case you are not supposed to. I have also used Google Maps and Wisepilot, the online mobile navigation service, on Android devices. They may not be as accurate as the other systems, but they come free.
I believe mobile handsets can replace most PNDs in the future, the way they are replacing point-andclick cameras. But there ought to be a way to switch off the device's ability to receive calls, while retaining the ability to download data, particularly on Android devices where map data is constantly downloaded.
The big step forward will be taken when more manufacturers following the lead of the likes of Mahindra on the XUV5OO, Volkswagen on the Polo and Vento, and Hyundai on the i20 by fitting navigation systems on their vehicles.
Navigation systems do get it wrong sometimes. New roads may not get loaded instantly. But they are much better than before. And I have lost count of the number of times I have been sent on wild goose chases when I used the traditional method of seeking directions from passers-by. PNDs have also got cheaper.
Those from MapMyIndia and TomTom start at Rs 10,000. You can buy an Android phone with navigation support for less than Rs 5,000 (data charges will apply). Nokia's Lumia devices start at around Rs 20,000.