Radar Companies Downplay Smartphone Competition

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NEW YORK — In a sentiment that departs from recent trends, radar detector manufacturers see little reason to fear smartphone apps as a source of competition.

While not completely dismissive of them, most of the radar detector manufacturers that TWICE spoke with said that business is doing well and that the consumers using free smartphones apps are not really the same type of consumers who purchase radar detector and red-light camera detector hardware.

The most popular “radar detector” app on the market is Trapster, an app that relies on a community of users to report speed traps, red-light cameras and other road hazards. The app, which can be used with the iPhone, Droid, BlackBerry, Palm WebOS, Nokia and even with non-smartphones, boasts more than 6.5 million users. Pete Tenereillo, founder/CEO of Trapster, said the company has a 12-person staff and 250 moderators who, among other things, verify the accuracy of the red-light camera detection claims.

Despite these impressive numbers, the Trapster user isn’t necessarily the same type of radar detector user, the manufacturers we spoke with believe.

“Trapster is basically community- based data [where] someone uploads a known speed trap location … it does not track police radar guns,” said Tony Kainuma, navigation and radar detection products director for Cobra. “You need to have an actual radar/laser detector to detect those signals. None of the smartphone apps will replace the hardware. I believe hardcore radar detector users — especially people spending over $300 — know what the differences are.” GPS Angel, maker of the GPS Angel V4e red-light and speed-camera locator, concurred with this sentiment, saying that its customers hail from an older, more professional demographic. “I think [Trapster is] different,” said Adam Fingerman, marketing director for the company. “The GPS Angel is a single-purpose product. You just plug it in and it works. There’s nothing to configure or install to make sure it’s running when you’re driving.

“The smartphone devices are interesting in that they’re free and people like that, but it’s just another thing you have to remember to run. You have to be fiddling with your phone while you’re driving, In some states that’s illegal,” he added.

While this may be the case, Trapster’s Tenereillo was quick to point out that the company works officially with several police departments.

The differences in user demographics can be attributed to the different types of databases kept by the companies. As mentioned, Trapster relies on a usergenerated database, whereas manufacturers such as Cheetah maintain their own databases.

“The advantage of that is that you [don’t have] the false alarms. The downside is that you may have to wait a week or so to get the update,” said Al Smith, VP at Cheetah. “The people who buy our products rely on the high accuracy rate.”

There is also the physical aspect of a radar detector to consider. Ron Gividen, communications manager at Escort and Beltronics, noted that certain radar bands require a physical microwave antenna horn.

“It’s a physical object you cannot get around. It’s unlikely it will ever be attached to a phone or as a stand-alone accessory,” Gividen said. “In PNDs, the PND manufacturers are going the opposite direction — they’re all getting thinner, smaller, less likely to incorporate an antenna.”

In the end, two compelling arguments can be made for each category. As Tenereillo pointed out to TWICE, millions of people already have the hardware (i.e. a smartphone) ready to go.

“There aren’t many people who will spend $99 or $199 or $600 just in case they might save money from getting a ticket,” Tenereillo said. “To spend money up to just save money, very few people do that … We’re tapping into a mass market here. Nokia has 1.3 billion active smartphones. The iPhone is growing like crazy. Android is really taking off . There’s a giant opportunity.”

However, as Fingerman noted when asked about GPS Angel’s future plans, “We like the idea of a dedicated device. We think that works well for our targeted customer. A dedicated single device will always trump a multipurpose device on ease of use.”

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