By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
With so many portable GPS brands competing for market share, suppliers are turning to real-time traffic updates to differentiate themselves from the pack. In many cases, the service is offered free for the lifetime of the product.
At International CES, Becker announced its entry into the U.S. personal navigation device (PND) market with a trio of devices that feature free lifetime traffic, and Panasonic expanded its selection of PNDs with free lifetime traffic updates.
Underscoring the potential of free service, Navigon claimed to have raised its NPD-reported market share from almost zero to close to 5 percent in November 2007, in part by offering free traffic updates for the lifetime of the product.
Until now, most PND makers offered traffic as a $60/year service option.
Free lifetime traffic has become a tool of entry for PND newcomers, but for leading PND suppliers, aggressive traffic-update pricing is the plan. Magellan, for example, said it plans a "lifetime" real-time traffic option on its newer RoadMate and Maestro Elite PNDs, shipping in March at a price to be announced. TomTom also said it is considering offering a lifetime option, according to marketing VP Tom Murray.
Meantime, Magellan announced traffic-service discounts at CES. The company said it will offer a discounted annual traffic service plan at $39 per year, well below the standard $60. Magellan is also incorporating built-in traffic service in more devices. One, the RoadMate 1230 at a suggested $329, will be one of the lowest priced PNDs with built-in real-time traffic. It features a 3.5-inch screen, street-name guidance and three months of free traffic. It ships in April along with a step-up model — the 1430 at a suggested $399, also with built-in traffic but with a 4.3-inch screen.
"I believe live traffic is a killer application and that navigation without it, without knowing what is happening down the road, is theoretical," said Magellan VP/GM Christain Bubenheim.
Market newcomer Becker, a Harman International company, entered the U.S. market with three PNDs at suggested retails of $399 to $599, including lifetime traffic service built into the price. The units ship in the next 45 days. Becker's opening price Traffic Assist 7927 features 3.5-inch screen, lane assistance (to give advanced visual warnings of preferred lane choices), preloaded maps of North America and a 400MHz processor. Like all the new Becker models, it announces the names of highways and freeways for upcoming turns but not for lesser roads.
Becker's step-up $499 Traffic Assist 7827 has similar features, a 4.3-inch screen and a "reality view" that shows lanes and road signage at complex highway intersections. The $599 7928 moves to a 4.8-inch screen and shows 3-D renderings of landmarks and buildings in some cities.
Panasonic announced at CES it will offer free lifetime traffic on its two new in-dash Strada navigation devices. Said Panasonic's Jonathan Frank, "It's less of a hassle for the consumer. It's one less thing to worry about. You don't want your subscription to lapse when you are stuck in traffic." Panasonic already offers free lifetime traffic on its 5-inch Strada CN-GP50U introduced late last year.
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