If you asked me a few years ago that standalone GPS devices would fall on hard times in the short future, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But those days, you couldn’t predict the rise of smart-phones such as the iPhone. Nowadays, the age of mobile GPS is finally upon us. As Steve Jobs would say, people are not into one trick pony devices anymore. Carrying a GPS around with you can be quite a hassle. It’s certainly more convenient to transform your smart phone into a mobile GPS and carry it with you on the go. That has put GPS makers such as Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan in a bind. These companies have spent years trying to build better, more capable stand alone GPS devices. All of a sudden, the game has changed. It’s no wonder some of these companies feel the rug has been pulled from under them.
GPS manufacturers really have three options at this point. They can either try to come up with a phone of their own to compete with the iPhone. Garmin has decided to take this approach with Nuvifone. While the company has partnered with ASUS to introduce a decent smart-phone, the strategy is still risky. For starters, most of Garmin’s competitors have either introduced or in the process of introducing their own iPhone apps. So that market is already becoming saturated but the top GPS maker in the world is not part of the field. Besides, Garmin is not in the phone business, and it’s not clear how Nuvifone would perform better than the iPhone when it comes to navigation.
The second option is to get out of the hardware business and focus only on software solutions for consumers. Navigon has done just that. The company introduced its own stand alone GPS devices a few years ago, and they generated quite a buzz. But Navigon couldn’t sustain its business when people started taking their business to Apple and other smart-phone makers. So Navigon decided to pull the plug and focus on its core competency. Let’s not forget that Mobile Navigator is one killer GPS with text to speech capability that is almost as powerful as stand alone Navigon devices.
The third and final option is what TomTom has done. It has not only kept its stand alone GPS devices, it’s also introduced a decent GPS kit for the iPhone. The company may not be relying only on its PNDs these days, but that’s no reason to abandon the market altogether. TomTom GPS for iPhone is a decent app, and while it still doesn’t have all the features people have come to love in TomTom GPS units, it’s still pretty capable. It’s not clear whether TomTom will keep expanding its hardware models, considering that a lot of people rather spend $300 on an iPhone than a stand alone GPS.
The iPhone may not be solely responsible for the state of PND business, but it has played a considerable role in it. Smart companies have taken the opportunity to protect their investments by taking advantage of the new mobile market that has come up due to the debut of more sophisticated smart-phones such as the iPhone and Palm Pre. Some are even using the iPhone to make interacting with their hardware units easier for their customers. The PND market is not completely dead yet, but it’s not clear how it’s going to survive?
Your take: would you still consider investing in a personal navigation device in the iPhone era?