If you go to buy a car from a dealer, and the one you pick out on the lot doesn't have the nav system, you can have one installed by the dealer or someone else. On my previous car, a 2011 Honda Fit, I had a Pioneer (IIRC) navigation system. I kinda hated it. I gave the car to my mother-in-law recently. She found it so confusing and awful to deal with that last I heard she was planning on having it removed and the original Honda radio put back in.
My sister and my mother-in-law both have hand held personal navigators (Garmin or Magellan or something along those lines). I used to have one of these; I loved it. However, I long ago got rid of it when I realized that my phone had apps on it that worked as well or better. I've used Google Maps and Apple Maps and web versions of same. I think the app for my BMW works also, but probably by interfacing with google maps.
Google and Apple have been doing a lot to make it easy to navigate using their apps. They have moved, especially on their mobile apps, away from Enter Start Point now Enter Destination approach (with possible intermediate waypoints) towards Imma assume you are starting from where you are now. Where you wanna go? It is actually kind of difficult to get it to show a route from point A to point B, where A is not where you are right at the moment.
I understand why they are doing this. It is both the typical case AND if you are driving around and want to get somewhere, you should not be forced to deal with a bunch of extraneous stuff because that is distracting and dangerous. Does it annoy me when I am exploring some hypotheticals on my phone or iPad? Sure. But my needs should be deprecated in this particular case.
I keep buying in-car nav systems, even tho there are these apps, because the screen in the car is much bigger. However, in-car nav systems such as the aftermarket Pioneer I had in my previous car and the in-car nav system in my husband's van (a Honda option) are often updated very occasionally and can get pretty far out of date. Also, the phone generally tells you some real time traffic information. If you want that in the car, you have to pay for a subscription, and that's if it is available at all.
I was really excited to be able to pay a ridiculous amount of money to get the with-traffic option on the i3's nav system. But it is a ridiculous amount of money. It is super easy to use that map, very minimally distracting, and very reassuring in terms of No That Alternative Route Is Not Much Better. Nevertheless, asking people to pay all that money is an iffy proposition, and that's when it is available at all AND better than the phone (no guarantee! Some OEM systems suck, and a lot of aftermarket systems have a ludicrously difficult learning curve, because they are marketed to power users).
According to this, there is a possibility that the government might get involved:
With a view to making sure that the same rules apply to the phone app as the installed system -- that is, don't be so distracting it makes an accident a lot more likely. It is disappointing that the article doesn't provide the paper map comparator, however, a commenter promptly corrects the laps.
Some people have clearly gotten creative:
"What smaller screen? I run Waze on a tablet mounted to my dash. BIGGER screen than most in-dash nav units."
And that leads me to my primary question: At what point will I be able to buy a car where the original manufacturer (BMW, Honda, wtf) basically lets the app on the phone run the screen in the car? Because I'm starting to think that's kinda what we all want anyway.
ETA: The NY Times article that the above was referring to:
All this back in June.
I think the Grow America Act went precisely nowhere; still looking around for any other indication that anyone is regulating navigation apps.
CES 2015 announcement that if you got the Your Car Is A Cell Phone option from BMW, they'll do map updates over the air. I don't know that I had given a lot of thought to how they were going to map updates, but anything less than this would have made me wonder when they were going to switch to this (I could totes imagine BMW asking you to come in for a complimentary map update appointment and have coffee while waiting, or, in an extreme case, giving you a loaner car for the day while they took care of that for you. But I don't believe they would keep doing that once they could automate it.)