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Just like video game consoles, personal navigation devices (PNDs) will eventually add more and more realism to their graphics, industry executives and analysts told TWICE.
Three-dimensional, photo-realistic street-level and birds-eye views will be one of the next technology upgrades for personal navigation devices (PNDs), they said. By 2012, according to ABI Research, 80 percent of PNDs in North America will offer some form of photo realistic display, as will 90 percent to 95 percent of PNDs in Europe.
Garmin said it plans to offer photo realism sometime after the first of next year, but photo realism in its most basic form — called 2-D landmarks — is already available from such brands as TomTom, Navigon and Hewlett-Packard.
The more advanced photo-realistic displays would look like Google Earth displays, showing realistic street views and giving users the ability to zoom in and out for panoramic views, said Michael Ippoliti, ABI's telematics and automotive research director.
The basic 2-D landmarks level shows the outlines of buildings as you drive, and the coming 3-D landmarks feature will show a building's texture, such as bricks or wood shingles. These features can help drivers get their bearings within a city block.
TomTom said it began showing building outlines in 20 major cities during the past six months on the Go 720 and Go 920. The company plans to offer the feature in 60 cities by next spring. TomTom's Go 720 also shows recessed waterways as another "landmark" to help drivers get their bearings.
For its part, Hewlett-Packard shows building outlines in select cities on the iPaq 310 Travel Companion PND, which began shipping last month at $449.
"Photo realism is one of the next 'big things' in PNDs," said Cobra navigation director Dave Marsh. The one or two features consumers will ask for when they first learn of the products is, "Does it do Google Earth?" he said. Another level of photo realism might include 3-D terrain, he added.
As more PNDs become connected to the Internet, and as memory capacity improves, PNDs will be able to offer full street-level photo realism with the ability to "zoom" out, said ABI's Ippoliti.
In the interim, incremental advances toward photo realism include a "reality view" offered by Navigon. It shows a simulated view of freeway intersections showing a view of multiple lands and traffic signs. The reality view is available for about 8,000 intersections in the United States in PNDs, starting at a suggested retail of $249 on the Navigon 2100.
"Automotive manufacturers offering built-in navigation," however, "are steering away from 3-D/photorealism because all that glorious detail could distract drivers," said ABI's Ippoliti. For the most part, he said, "while driving, less is more. What you want is a simplified interface, except perhaps at a difficult downtown intersection where a view of prominent landmarks could help negotiate a path through."
Aftermarket PNDs might offer the feature, however, because the devices could be used by the car's passengers or by pedestrians, he said.