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?
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.