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Are Personal Navigation Devices in ‘Terminal Decline’?



cf-md.jpgA European Bloomberg reporter wrote an article about the business side of personal navigation devices. An industry analyst said that sales of standalone personal navigation devices are in a terminal decline. TomTom and Garmin execs disagree and think the market will grow for at least a couple more years.

Analysts in the Bloomberg report point out that car navigation devices are becoming more popular and smart phones are becoming the PND of choice.

I think the days of standalone portable GPS devices are numbered. There will always be room for specialty devices, such as those tailored for outdoorsmen, but I don’t think consumers will rush out to buy dedicated units once they get used to using their phones’ GPS capabilities.

Auto manufacturers charge a steep premium for in-car navigation units, but I think that will also change. I finally got a car with a built-in navigation system and the experience is miles ahead of any standalone GPS unit I’ve ever used. It has a nice big display and I like that its in the dashboard, rather than hanging onto it for dear life. It recognizes my voice commands and is fully integrated with the rest of the car’s electronics. This means it knows to stop barking commands while I’m on a phone call.

The Bloomberg article didn’t mention the fact that more computers are shipping with GPS modules and 3G cards add GPS capabilities to portable computers.

I’ve long since ditched my Garmin GPS and primarily use my car’s built-in navigation system. When I’m on foot or out of town I use my Viliv S5 and iPhone 3GS.

Do you agree with the analyst’s ‘terminal decline’ prediction? Or do you think you’ll be buying one sometime soon?



  1. Scott McB

    08/27/2009 at 12:53 pm

    I definitely think stand-alone GPS units are on their way out.

    I have a Magellan GPS that I have owned for 4 years now. I used to use it all the time. But now I never use it. A couple things have contributed to that –

    1. They offered no map updates for it. In fact, Magellan would sell me a new unit, and give me a small credit for my old one. How useless is that? How hard is it to release new software with updated maps? I’ll never buy Magellan again.

    2. Two years ago I got a new Windows Mobile phone. For navigation, I now use Microsoft Bing/Live Search, or Google Maps. Both free, and both good at what they do.

    So with the trend of phones getting smarter, and most of them having a GPS built in, I really think the market for stand alone GPS units is definitely on the downfall.

  2. John M. Feeney

    08/27/2009 at 12:59 pm

    With all 2009 models forward having GPS Built-in the car/truck/van/bus. The OEM world will present a small window. Once we get passed the fact: equipment is already installed. It’s a matter of tapping into the data.

    The first one to be able to cross lines, use a competitors hardware and provide better service will storm troup the sector. Web based applications currently online, use your current Cellular solution, they solved it.

    Garmin has addressed design by creating a pouch on the dashboard. This actually acknowledges why units need to be in the counsul not the window/dashboard. 2 States California / Minnesota will be enforcing No Window mounted GPS units or any thing.

    I still like the new apps identifing Speed Cameras along the route I take, yes it does come in handy.

  3. Eric

    08/27/2009 at 2:53 pm

    I disagree, out of a family of 7 I’m the only one with a smartphone with built-in gps. The other members either own or are in the market for standalone gps navigation devices.

  4. Travis

    08/27/2009 at 6:33 pm

    You shouldn’t be on the phone and driving at the same time. Some people just don’t get it.

  5. Xavier

    08/27/2009 at 9:51 pm

    Travis- I agree that talking while driving can be distracting, but my setup is far safer that most. I don’t have to take my ands off the wheel to dial or talk. Here in CA the highway patrol are cracking down on people talking while holding their handsets.

  6. Paul Harrigan

    08/28/2009 at 12:27 am

    I agree that the standalone units are dead men walking.

    I also agree that some of the built-in navigation systems are very nice.

    However, it is difficult to justify a $3000 add-on when I can get most of the same functionality with $100 telephone software. Moreover, I travel a lot. With smartphone software, I have the gps functionality in every car. If I want a new car, I have to buy a new GPS. That is not the case with the phone software, where it is becoming a ubiquitous feature of smartphones and costs little if anything more.

    I don’t think that onboard GPS systems win out, therefore, unless their cost drops to zero or a nominal amount.

  7. Travis

    08/28/2009 at 10:14 am

    Even using “hands free” is less safe than not talking at all.

  8. WellThen

    08/28/2009 at 11:23 am

    My experience is from the other direction. I had several in-car GPS units before I ever worked with a Garmin. The in-car experience is the overall win, and on-phone nav is great, but:
    – As pointed out before, $3000 price tag for in-car
    – Someone above said the Windows Mobile option was “free”, but that “free” includes $30-40 a month data plan, which I’d love but don’t really need
    – I helped a relative set up Garmins in 2 different cars last month. Being able to always know the speed limit on the road I am on (something the in-car models never show in my experience) was great!
    – Having my co-pilot (passenger) able to enter information while the car is in motion (something the in-car models lock out) was also great.

    So, when the ridiculous premium for the in-car units (and the often obscene price for an updated Nav disk for them!) comes down, then the attraction of the Personal Nav devices will drop off.

  9. GMA

    08/28/2009 at 2:12 pm

    @Travis – how is that any different than talking to someone sitting next to you in the car. I think most people with half a brain to focus can safely drive and have a conversation. Applying makeup, texting, dialing, calling up songs, etc…are the things to worry about. Not having a conversation. My handsfree system (just a Motorola T505) even answers without me touching anything.

  10. xmangerm

    08/29/2009 at 4:32 am

    Paul Harrigan, I agree with you 100%.

  11. Gary Gendel

    08/30/2009 at 8:09 am

    I don’t think that the built-in NAV systems will survive if they keep playing the captive market card. For example, my Gen-4 Lexus/Toyota NAV system would lock you out if the car is in motion. There was a back door to disable it, but since 2007, map upgrades locked that path out. Do they think that punching in detour information is worse than trying to pull off in a construction area? Worst is that map upgrades cost over $500. The feature set is pretty much locked in, and is now lagging behind what I can get with a cheap NAV unit. Where is the value in that?

  12. Corey S

    09/10/2009 at 10:42 pm

    I definitely disagree here.

    I have used all three extensively and by sheer ease of use I would take the pricey built-in GPS option. Just having it always there and not needing to dig something out of your glovebox and mount it to the window is quite nice. This is about where its’ niceties end though, with expensive and infrequent map updates and almost always requiring the car be in park to adjust the route. Having it built in and always available frankly doesn’t warrant its expensive price tag for me.

    My second choice would be the handheld GPS device. Data entry is often even better than in-dash models, and frequently have more up to date maps. These devices are very simple to operate and with their included mounting brackets, make for a somewhat decent navigating experience.

    A very distant runner up, and personal last resort are the cellular phone based applications which by very nature of being driving aides, should be banned for safety reasons! Something that requires you take your eyes off the road and focus on a tiny cell phone screen with a clunky interface is asking for all sorts of trouble! Add in the fact it also takes away a free hand (since there is no mounting hardware) and its real world usefulness is hard to see. And lets not forget these applications are often slow to acquire initial location, making quick trips longer; and these applications drain battery life like none other, eliminating any chance of using it for say, a road trip.

    Until in-dash units become more affordable I think portable GPS devices are here to stick around a while. I don’t know of anyone who continually uses their cell phone for GPS navigation, and I really don’t see it catching on anytime soon either.

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