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PNDs Get Computer, Cellular Upgrades

LAS VEGAS — Portable GPS, one of the fastest growing markets in consumer electronics, is entering the wireless age at International CES with new products that use WiMAX, 3G cellular, or Wi-Fi to turn personal navigation devices (PNDs) into Internet or traffic appliances.

PNDs will also see a host of other technology upgrades at CES, as suppliers race to grab market share in a category that enjoyed almost 300 percent annual growth over the past two years and is expected to double again in 2008.

Two years ago, the price of a low-end PND was $550 to $600 compared with today’s $199 or less, helping drive retail-level PND sales in North America past the 8 million unit mark in 2007, up from about 2.7 million units in 2006, according to supplier estimates.

Innovation is driving the high end of the market. Clarion, for example, plans to show an advanced PND/handheld PC with “always on” Internet access. Clarion’s MiND PND/portable PC is a cross between a PND and a new breed of Intel handheld PC known as Mobile Internet Devices, or MIDs.

In addition, Dash Navigation is offering a PND with two-way traffic communication, while Garmin is adding headline news and stock listings to a PND.

TomTom is adding gas price listings.

Like video game consoles before them, PNDs are also getting an infusion of 3-D “photo realism” so that eventually drivers will see semi-realistic views of the road as they drive, with traffic signs, building outlines and building texture, lane markings, and hills and valleys in the background.

Some of the other trends that dealers will find here at CES include:

Real-time traffic appearing in new PNDs this year for $350 compared with a general starting price above $500 in early 2007.

XM Satellite Radio showing its first consumer weather service for GPS.

See the story at left for a list of introductions by brand.

For coverage of PNDs from automotive electronics marketers at Alpine, Jensen, Panasonic, Sony and Uniden, and for additional Pioneer information, see the car electronics section in this issue.

For information on the Cowon and iRiver PMPs with optional GPS, see p. 8 and 154, respectively. o

Car stereo companies sharpening their focus on the category. Pioneer plans to show a “hybrid” PND/in-dash GPS, Sony is returning to the market, Alpine is expanding its PND line, and Panasonic entered the market in December. The three leading suppliers — Garmin, TomTom and Magellan — offering voice input of addresses. This lets users can keep their eyes on the road instead of looking at a screen to type in addresses. PNDs merging rapidly with other CE products. This year, portable audio suppliers Cowon and iRiver are adding optional GPS capability to their portable media players (PMPs) to help distinguish them from the iPod. And Uniden is offering a PND that converges with a radar detector. PND screens that are getting larger. Garmin, Clarion and Pioneer are offering models with 5.2-inch screens and up.