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POI – Points of Interest


What is a POI? POI stands for Points of Interest. These are locations, typically business storefronts, that exist in auto GPS devices. A POI could be a gas station, a hotel, a restaurant, a shopping mall, or a historical location. So how is this important when looking for a GPS, how many are enough, and why are they so often wrong?

Data Collection

The data for the POI databases is collected from a variety of sources. In some cases the mapping companies collect it, sometimes the data is provided directly to mapping companies from larger chain locations, and other times the information is gathered by companies who specialize in creating business directories. (Think Yellow Pages.) The data typically includes the physical address, name of the location, category of the POI, a phone number, and the geographic coordinates.

How Many POIs

Aside from “why isn’t my street in this GPS?”, the second most common question we receive is “Why isn’t that big box retailer down the street that opened last year isn’t in my GPS?”. Often, it comes down to an issue of capacity on the device, or simply the price of purchasing larger databases of POIs.

Unlike the road database, GPS companies don’t cram every known POI into their devices. In many ways, it makes sense. If you have a database of registered businesses, many of them might not want to be listed as a POI. People who run businesses from their homes, and businesses that are strictly offices and have no “storefront” are examples.

But there are also many “storefront” type POIs that are not listed. In many cases it is a matter of capacity. Several current GPS models only come with 1 GB of memory. After installing the operating system, application, and maps there is often not much space left over for millions and millions of POIs.

In other cases it is a matter of cost. There are a few (though rare) GPS companies out there who sell identical GPS models with different amounts of POIs at different prices. Otherwise the models are exactly the same. So there is an element of cost associated with the size of a POI database.

I’ve also always wondered if the GPS companies might hold some sort of ransom over inclusion of POIs into their devices. Perhaps saying a big chain “We’ll list all of your POIs into our devices for a cost”. Just to be perfectly clear, I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that is the case, but it crosses my mind from time to time.

How many should I look for?

That depends on your own unique needs. Some people find that they almost never utilize the POI database in their GPS. They plan out their routes ahead of time with enough certainty that they never really need to find a location by type, spontaneously. Other people have travel types whereby they constantly need to locate nearby hotels or their favorite restaurant chain.

Some devices come with less than 1 million POIs, or just over 1 million. This is on the slim side. For example one company where some GPS manufacturers gets their data from has a database of 14 million USA business locations and another 1.5 million on Canada. So if your GPS covers the USA and Canada and has 750,000 POIs, that only represents less than one out of every every twenty POIs, or 5% coverage. That means you might find 19 POIs not in the database for every POI listed.

GPS devices with 5-6 million POIs are on the high side of the number of POIs despite still having only 30-40% coverage based on many estimates.

GPS companies, listen up!

A disturbing trend of late has been the unwillingness of GPS manufacturers to disclose how many POIs they include in their devices. Many of them are giving us generic answers like “millions” or not making any reference at all. This is a huge disservice to those consumers who are looking to make meaningful comparisons of models, even models from the same company that might have different amounts of POIs.

I still can’t believe company XYZ isn’t included!

That is true. You will find that what the GPS company decided to pick for inclusion doesn’t match what you would have picked for POIs. If there is something specific you are looking for, you still can’t quite match adding the locations yourself. Most GPS devices offer the ability to load “custom POI” databases that you add yourself. Some of them offer utilities to help convert lists of locations you have, and in other cases other people have already created them and share them online. The process isn’t always that simple though so you might need to seek some help from others who have done it. But that is another topic for another time. :)

26 Responses

  1. why don’t you discuss how POI’s are or are not displayed on the map view on different gps? My garmin nuvi 660 does not display POI’s in words that I can see along my drive. It displays extremely small unreadable icons in a certain view and they are useless as I am driving.

    lisa - January 3rd, 2008
  2. That is true, some display POIs on the moving map and some don’t. In some way I can see why they might take the approach of not showing a POI on the map. Afterall if you decide you need a POI the closest one might not be in the current map view and you might need to search by it. And in some locations there are just so many POIs that it becomes difficult to read the map through them.

    But I agree, I’d rather have the option to display some or all of the POI categories than not have the option at all.

    Many of the newer Garmin models such as the Nuvi and StreetPilot “c” series don’t show POIs in the 3D map view, many of the Magellan models and all of the TomTom models do.

    Tim - January 3rd, 2008
  3. Thanks for that. When traveling for work (weekly all over N. America) handy to show certain POI’s on moving map, like restaurants, hotels, gas stations. The nuvi 660 does not have. It’s method is to navigate to options menu, scroll down a list, pick only one restaurant at a time, then scroll to “see map” then view that one POI on the map. Then go back and do that all over again if not the POI you want. Better to have visual of all certain POI’s, say gas stations, on moving map, to see relation to your current position. Menu hopping not good. If there is list of makes/models that lists if they do or do not offer this feature it would help the selection process. Got a Tom Tom 720T, allows you to chose one or more category of POI to show on moving map. Shows icons but not text. Still searching for the holy grail – the better quality graphics of the nuvi maps with the tom tom ability to show POI categories on moving maps. Also important to know if POI’s show in readable text, branded icon, or universal icon. The universal gas pump icon may work in a pinch, but the fork and knife icon for restaurants is useless, likewise lodging icon useless when looking for a certain quality hotel brand. Thanks!

    lisa - January 5th, 2008
  4. recently purchased tomtom 1, (first gps),was dissapointed when I found out that POI information did not include address and/or phone no.(i.e. motel)which I consider a necessity when traveling. I called tomtom and asked what add’l chip/software could I purchase to include this feature and they said “none” cause my unit did not hsve a hard drive. Is this true? if so, what mfg’s/models include what I need? Thank you, Dave

    dave cerny - January 13th, 2008
  5. Dave – No, that isn’t really true. Which model ONE do you have, what application version is it running, and then we can tell you how to find that information on your ONE.

    Tim - January 13th, 2008
  6. Tim: TX for response.no model # that I can find, Name on plastic card “tomtom one new edition u.s./canada”.The tomtom name is located on the lower lefthand corner of face of unit.Has SD card slot on bottom, however, no card was included. Application version shown on screen during operation is 6.560

    dave - January 14th, 2008
  7. In version 6 you can use the Browse Map mode, find the POI using the Find button and then tap on it to see the phone number. You can tap nearby on the street to see a nearby address.

    In version 7 (free update through HOME) after selecting the POI it will show you a map of the location, the phone number, and nearest intersection.

    Tim - January 14th, 2008
  8. We have a small Chocolate Shop that I would like to list in our local POI. I need some direction on making my listing. Could someone help us out?

    Bill Kent - January 23rd, 2008
  9. Are you trying to make it appear on just your own device, or make it available to other GPS users? If the latter, the GPS companies get their data from a variety of sources, and they don’t include everything they know of or can find.

    Tim - January 24th, 2008
  10. I have never owned a GPS unit and have been researching them to death. I am leaning toward the Navigon brand (either the 5100 or 7100 models-probably the 5100 though), and was looking for your take on these. Also, I can’t seem to pin down the exact number of POI’s in either model. any help would be appreciated.

    Mike Erickson - February 16th, 2008
  11. Mike, we have a review of the NAVIGON 7100 you can read. Many manufacturers no longer specify/confirm exactly how many POIs are installed on their devices.

    Tim - February 16th, 2008
  12. Tim,
    I read the review on the Navigon 7100-Thanks! But I am still looking for any information or reviews on the 5100 model. Any help with that?

    mike erickson - February 16th, 2008
  13. You can find some commentary on the 5100 here, here, here, and here.

    Tim - February 16th, 2008
  14. Has anyone used the Harman Kardon GPS310, any thoughts on how this compares to a Magellan 3225 Maestro.

    Thanks in advance

    Amchi - July 25th, 2008
  15. I would like to get our businesses listed on GPS devices. Does anyone have insight on the main companies I should contact? I started with NAVTEQ. Thanks! Kim

    Kim - August 14th, 2008
  16. Kim, see our article: Putting a Business on the Map

    Tim - August 14th, 2008
  17. Are airports and train stations considered POIs? They rarely have a simple street address, and yet are frequent destinations in unfamiliar towns. Could they be added manually if necessary?
    Thanks much.

    Joanna - September 1st, 2008
  18. Yes, those are both considered types of POIs.

    Tim - September 2nd, 2008
  19. I’m seeing a lot of custom POI files available for download. Each one usually representing an individual business. What a friggin joke. Who wants to download and install hundreds of POI files? Aren’t POI files by category for the entire USA? (restaurants, auto repair, retail stores, etc) If so, WHERE?

    John - November 14th, 2008
  20. I know nothing about GPS’s and I am looking to buy one, but I want the most POI’s available with a reasonable price($200-300). Any suggestions? I bought a TomTom One(the discontinued model)and it doesn’t have hardly any, can I add more? And if so, how? Thanks!!

    Cheryl - November 21st, 2008
  21. You can add more to a TomTom through the TomTom HOME application.

    Tim - November 21st, 2008
  22. My family likes to go camping from time to time and we rely on the POI feature to help us find campgrounds nearby when we travel. When borrowing my father’s Roadmate 6000T, this POI was available; on my new Maestro 3100, it is not. I am now searching for a different model. Can anyone tell me how to find out which units will have this POI? Or is it safe to say that all of the models with 6 million POIs will likely have that one?


    Leslie - March 5th, 2009
  23. Just wondering… How long does it take to get an answer?

    Leslie - March 18th, 2009
  24. a year and 12 days…

    I still can’t believe that nobody seems to have figured out a way to leverage the power of POI databases and make the collections much more usable.

    POIFactory seems to have a good start on a database, but are not managing the data very efficiently.

    Cuc - March 30th, 2010
  25. My DH would like my nuvi 255W a lot better if I could program all the Starbucks sites off I-95 into my GPS. Any advice?

    Lynn - May 27th, 2010
  26. I live at 5336 Alpine Way, Louisville, KY; however, when
    a person uses GPS they are directed to 5336 Westhall.
    This has happened when using a gps in a personal car and
    it also happens when a vendor uses GPS. I have had lawn treatments given to 5336 Westhall and even pacages
    via UPS have been delivered to the wrong house.
    The error probably occurs because Alpine Way begins
    in a North-South direction; however, it makes a 90degree
    turn and I live on the East-West section of Alpine Way.

    Can someone tell me how to correct the error?
    The post office delivers the mail (most of the time) to the correct address and as a result I receive bills for services performed at the wrong address.

    john stoller - June 15th, 2011

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