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Deluge Of Portable GPS Debuts For Fall

10/09/2006 02:00:00 AM Eastern

The portable GPS market has been barraged in the past 45 days with new products and new suppliers, all vying to gain a toe hold in the expected 3 million unit North American market this year.

New brands including Uniden, Rand McNally and Dash Navigation, have announced market entries and current suppliers Delphi, Mio, Cobra, Navman, Lowrance and TeleType, as well as the “big three” market leaders: Garmin, TomTom and Magellan have announced new products.

It remains to be seen if some of the contenders can break the market stronghold enjoyed by Garmin, TomTom and Magellan, which collectively own about 85 percent share, according to The NPD Group.

With the portable GPS category ready to nearly triple in sales this year and possibly double again next year, many brands are doing their best to topple the big three's juggernaut.

The contenders' success will be determined in part by pricing and by distribution, said Ross Rubin, NPD's industry analysis director. He notes that Garmin, with 40 to 50 percent share, has been aggressive on price to help defend its stronghold. Making some inroads in market share, however, are Sony and Pioneer, which have each gained by a few points recently, said Rubin. Sony has the advantage of strong distribution, he said. Pioneer has been offering a free portable GPS with the purchase of a Pioneer in-dash navigation system.

Rubin noted, “It's easy to get into the category, but it's difficult to differentiate one self.”

Tom Bancroft, Crutchfield merchandise director for marine, GPS and accessories, doesn't see this Christmas as a time for huge market share gains and losses.

“I think that the holiday is one of those times to get a foothold in the market. Folks are going to purchase navigation for gifts and may be a little less discriminating than they would be for themselves, so most of the suppliers will have reasonably good holidays. I don't see this as the time for the big shakeout,” he said noting that six months to a year down the line, however, consumers will begin offering word-of-mouth recommendations to their friends. “They'll say my Mio is great or it's not so hot: they'll say it about all the products and ultimately the consumers will decide which survive.”

Eventually, the major players will give up share, predicts Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for TRG, Minnetonka, Minn. “I don't think it's sustainable for three players to have that much share, especially because there are few barriers to entry in GPS.”

One of the most aggressive entrants into the category is Dash Navigation, (see p. 38) which is promising to push GPS utility to new heights.

Mapmaker Rand McNally entered the portable GPS market last month with a $499 device that will be bundled with a printed road atlas. Called the GPS Navigator, it was launched through Amazon.com in September and will be sold through retailers this month. Features include pre-loaded maps of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, a slim case, 3.5-inch color touch screen and built-in MP3 player, as well as pre-loaded routes for 26 road trips. Rand McNally expects to offer several other models in the future.

Delphi announced its first new device in several years, marking a return to consumer GPS. The portable NAV200 includes optional real-time traffic, 3.5-inch color screen and a fast 400MHz processor at $349 suggested retail price. The unit offers preloaded maps on an SD card of the entire United States and Canada. It can also play back MP3 and picture files on the SD card.

Also providing optional real-time traffic is a new Cobra NAV ONE2500, now shipping after being announced earlier this year. The unit, at a suggested retail of $499, offers an advanced point of interest (POI) feature that lets users locate their favorite “brand” of stores, restaurants and other locations, such as Home Depot or Dunkin Donuts, as examples.

Cobra said the NAV ONE2500 also offers a “Compare Routes” feature that displays routing alternatives that take into account traffic flow and offer estimated times of arrival (ETA). When traffic impacts a route and alters the ETA to an amount that is preset by the user, he is then presented with alternate routes, each with a corresponding ETA, said Cobra. The company is expected to offer other new GPS units over the next few months.

Navman will ship this fall two new portable GPS devices with NavPix photo-location technology.

The new N40i and N60i include built-in 1.3 megapixel cameras, so that users can snap a photo of any location they wish to navigate to in the future, be it a field or a building. The unit stores the photo, encoded with the exact longitude and latitude of the site, in a library so users can tap on the photo to get automatic directions without inputting an address. This NavPix feature was first introduced on the Navman iCN 750 earlier this year.

The new N60i offers a large, 4.3-inch screen, sleek form factor and IR remote. The N40i has a 3.5-inch screen and sleek form factor. The units ship in November and October, respectively, at suggested retail prices of $599 and $499. The N60i will be introduced initially exclusively through Amazon.com.

Mio Technology said it will ship in November a new DigiWalker portable GPS for both car and outdoor navigation at a suggested retail price of $499. The H610 has multiple navigation modes, including one for walking, and a separate one for bicycling or car navigation.

New From TeleType is the WorldNav 3100 with street name pronunciation, 3.5-inch screen, lithium-ion battery, MP3 and video player and picture viewer, SD card slot and maps of the U.S. and Puerto Rico at $399 with 3 million POI, or $459 with 12 million POI and “Yellow Page” listings of businesses such as Kinko's, Staples, Home Depot, etc.