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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Garmin Smartphone Link - Live Traffic problems surface

Yesterday I discussed Garmin's new Smarphone Link app for Android.  You can read it here. Within hours of posting the story, I began to run into problems with the Live Traffic feature of Garmin Smartphone Link as I dug deeper into the app.

While HD Traffic works great on my Nuvi 3490LTM, my $19.99 Live Traffic service does not.  Why do I need both?  As Garmin explains in this FAQ, Live Traffic through Smartphone Link allows you a potentially greater coverage area than HD Traffic does.  I bought Live Traffic as a backup, so I thought.  Turns out that Garmin doesn't appear to have thought through the issues of using HD Traffic with Smartphone Link Live Traffic very well.

A technical issue appears to be preventing me from receiving Live Traffic from Smartphone Link. The Nuvi doesn't appear to be smart enough to know it isn't receiving Live Traffic from Smartphone Link and switch over to try HD Radio Traffic. It just sits there using Smartphone Link without receiving traffic at all.

What does this mean for real road trips?  It appears to mean that Live Traffic isn't a backup at all. It is an either/or proposition.  If you aren't receiving Live Traffic for whatever reason, HD Radio traffic won't be there to back you up.  The only option appears to be to turn off Smartphone Link entirely, which turns off all its other great features as well.  That is a poor design choice.
Short of being able to handle a switch between Smartphone Link Live Traffic and HD Radio Traffic automatically and intelligently, the Nuvi badly needs a user setting to switch between the two services.

As you can see below, everything is swell with traffic on my Nuvi 3490LMT with HD Radio traffic. I've got a strong signal and am receiving traffic reports.  I've disabled Smartphone Link for this picture.

Nuvi 3490LMT using HD Radio Traffic
Enabling Smartphone Link breaks the traffic service it appears.  In the photo below, you can clearly see that my Smartphone Link Live Traffic subscription is active.  Other Smartphone Link services work fine, so my bluetooth communication with my Nuvi is clearly functional.
Nuvi 3490LMT Smartphone Link Subscription Services Status Screen
Look what happens to my traffic function now.  The photo below was taken within 30 seconds of the HD Traffic photo above.

Nuvi 3490LMT using Smartphone Link Live Traffic
As you can see, the traffic content is gone.  The message "Traffic up to Date" has been replaced with "Waiting for Traffic Data."  The text on the right provides tips for diagnosing bad traffic reception.  The content of this message deals with the Nuvi's HD Traffic receiver attached to the car cord.  This is irrelevant when using Smartphone Link because the traffic doesn't come from that receiving any more.

I've watched this screen for 15 to 20 minutes and the message "Waiting for Traffic Data" never goes away.  The Nuvi also doesn't hande the switch back to HD Traffic very well.  When you turn off bluetooth, the HD Radio traffic signal strength bar returns, and it populates with screen bars to indicate the HD Radio traffic signal is back.  However, the mesage "Waiting for Traffic Data" remains.  You have to physically turn off the Nuvi (hold down the power button for several seconds) then start it back up.  At that point, the HD Traffic content comes back.

Once you purchase Smartphone Link Live Traffic there is no way to turn it off and still use the other services.  You are stuck.  I completely deleted the bluetooth pairing between my phone and the Nuvi and deleted the Smartphone Link app from my phone.  I reinstalled the Smartphone Link app and paired my phone and Nuvi again.  My thinking was that since the Live Traffic Service was an additional in-app purchase, if I reinstall the app, I might have to actually go back into the act of purchasing Live Traffic again before it would recognize that I already purchased it and reactivate it.  Nope.  As soon as you open Smartphone Link, it must check in the background what services you've purchased and reactivate them automatically.

I contacted Garmin phone support.  That went no where fast.  When the rep's questions start with "What is the name of that app?"  "Is that an app that Garmin makes?"  and "What does the app do?"  you know that you are not going to get resolution to a technical problem like this.

Garmin does have a support email menu selection specific to Smartphone Link.  I've submitted this problem to them. I was greeted with a message to expect a 3 day wait, so I wait.

Problems with a new v1.0 app are to be expected I suppose.  Garmin clearly needs to work through issues with this app and I hope they do so soon.

For now, I'd stay away from Smarthphone Link's Live Traffic add-in until Garmin has responded to this problem and it appears to be working as expected.  I'll post updates on the blog.