By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Portable navigation devices (PNDs) are turning into mini “hubs” inside the car and out, pointing to a future where many models won't be limited solely to guiding people from one place to another.
Already more than two thirds of PNDs include some form of music or photo-viewing capability, suppliers said. Clarion and JVC, for example, are offering PNDs that double as portable media players. TomTom's new PNDs double as iPod controllers, and Polaroid is building GPS navigation into a portable DVD player. (See story on p. 32.)
Add to this real-time traffic services, satellite radio controls and Bluetooth hands-free speakerphones, and it's easy to see why “GPS is becoming the hub unit as it converges with MP3 and satellite radio in an all-in-one device that's portable,” said Roger Bowman, RadioShack communications, mobile electronics and seasonal items merchandise VP.
Over the next 18 months, the three technologies expected to converge most frequently with PNDs will be satellite radio, Bluetooth for hands-free cellphone use and real-time traffic services, marketers said.
“Traffic as well as Bluetooth hands-free communication will be the key capabilities at the end of this year and satellite radio next year,” said Raj Mitra, Magellan's worldwide product marketing senior director.
Garmin is the only vendor offering controls for an optional satellite radio antenna/tuner combo, and solely for XM Satellite Radio, but by January's International CES, many suppliers are expected to follow suit with units in the $1,000 range.
Magellan, Lowrance and Polaroid say they are looking at offering satellite radio, and Cobra and Polaroid are considering Bluetooth.
TomTom is planning “more convergence devices this year and next,” said president Jocelyn Vigreux without elaborating.
Sirius does not expect Sirius/GPS combos to appear in 2006, but “by next year, you'll start to see it on a more widespread basis,” said senior VP Bob Law.
Retail buyers appear especially bullish on Bluetooth integration in PNDs. TomTom's current Bluetooth PNDs are some of Car Toys's most popular GPS units, “and it's because of the Bluetooth features,” said Car Toys senior merchandising VP Dan Jeancola.
Tweeter's VP/merchandising GM Jonathan Magasanik called Bluetooth speakerphones in GPS “one of the most viable features.”
Suppliers point to the popularity of Bluetooth in Europe, where the vast majority of PNDs include Bluetooth speakerphones. “The penetration has been slow in the U.S., but for the past 12 months, there's been a stratospheric increase in the use of Bluetooth headsets with mobile phones,” said Magellan's Mitra. As consumers become more familiar with Bluetooth, it will become “very popular this year” in GPS, he said.
Magellan's first Bluetooth PND, the 6000T, ships in mid-July, and Garmin's first model, the StreetPilot C550, just began shipping.
“The hands-free feature is not to be underestimated,” said TomTom's Vigreux. “The U.S. has started to legislate on the issue of not being able to hold your phone to your ear and drive at the same time. And this wave is not going to stop.”
Vigreaux cautions, however, that technology can't be stuffed haphazardly into PNDs. “This is not about stuffing technology in a product. A navigation device is first and foremost a navigation device,” he said. Certain audio applications, however, fit well with GPS because 80 percent of people listen to music while driving, he noted.
As to real-time traffic, almost every key PND supplier offers some form of real-time traffic service at present although the market is still in its infancy. The service is estimated to enjoy fewer than 100,000 users, although it could grow to a user base of 6 million to 8 million by 2010, according to The Telematics Research Group (TRG) of Minnetonka, Minn.
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