Portable Navigation Set To Go Mainstream

By Amy Gilroy On Feb 21 2005 - 8:00am

Portable in-car navigation is on its way to becoming a mainstream product, say industry members.

The market is nearing the end of the early adopter stage and will begin scratching the surface of “the early majority, which is the next step in the product cycle” said Tom Tom's president Jocelyn Vigreux. A spokesman for Garmin agreed, stating, “I think it's on the verge of taking off, and frankly already is.”

Tom Tom estimates portable in-car navigation sales will hit 300,000 to 400,000 units this year in “aggressive double-digit growth.”

Navman said its sales tripled in November and December, compared to the same months in 2003, and Garmin claims it automotive navigation sales are outpacing PDAs, marine “or anything else,” said the spokesman.

Navman also agrees that dedicated car products are outselling PDAs with built-in GPS, despite the similar price and despite the fact that PDAs offer the added benefits of contact lists, scheduling and other functions. “Our dedicated navigation unit sells five-to-one over the PDA at relatively the same price. It shows us that people don't want the complexity. If they want to navigate, they want to navigate,” said Navman's president George Arnott.

He and others attribute the overall gains this year in portable in-car navigation to “breaking price-point barriers” that have fallen from $1,200 to under $500.

Consumers also like the convenience of the new navigation models with preloaded street level maps, although the price for these remains relatively steep at $899 and above. However, this segment could see more moderate prices of under $600 by the end of the year, suppliers said. “Memory prices are coming down and the cost of hard drives are coming down,” Arnot explained.

Among the many new devices heading to the market this year (see TWICE, Jan. 6, p. 122) are two new Street Pilot models from Garmin. The new C series portable in-car navigation models focus on ease of use, said the company. When the units are turned on, there are two basic operations from the touch screen — one is to “See where you are” and the other is “Where to?”, said the spokesman.

The Garmin C330 offers preloaded street level maps of North America at a suggested $899, and the C320 requires users to load maps onto a Secure Digital (SD) card at $699. Both units ship in March.

Pharos is shipping its first in-car device, which is called the EZ-Road Pocket GPS Navigator. The unit has PDA design but does not ship with Microsoft Word or Excel. The unit does however offer calendar and contact functions. It has a 3.5-inch color touch screen with map and voice guidance. Users synchronize the unit with their PC to download maps. The EZ Road Pocket GPS also has an SD slot and is shipping now at a suggested $529.

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