GPS systems get smaller

December 14, 2005

It used to be that in order to have a GPS system, you had to shell out big dollars on luxury vehicles. Thanks to improvements in technology, feature-rich navigation systems have become smaller, more portable, and most importantly more cost effective.

Clem Driscoll, an analyst with C.J. Driscoll & Associates, a marketing consulting and research firm specializing in GPS and wireless products and services, thinks the market is ripe with opportunity.

"Factory-installed GPS navigation systems are now available on over half the vehicle models sold in the North America. Over a million new vehicles sold this year are equipped with navigation systems," Driscoll said. "This has created greater consumer awareness of GPS navigation and its benefits. Also, an increasing number of auto manufacturers are featuring vehicle navigation in TV ads."

Driscoll added, "The leading portable GPS units perform well and the early adopters often recommend these systems to their peers. The current generation systems focus on 'ease of use,' which is very important to consumers."

Companies like TomTom, Garmin and Cobra are betting that their portable systems will be hot sellers this Christmas and beyond. TomTom's marketing campaign has increased public awareness and the coolness factor of these devices.

Garmin nuvi 660 GPS

Karen Drake, PR Manager for TomTom, said, "Consumers in general are becoming more aware of the advantages of personal GPS and on-demand navigation. They are looking for easy ways to have information readily available whether while driving their own car, a rental car or even cruising on a motorcycle. Grab and go GPS devices provide consumers with the convenience to accommodate their busy travel schedules, and in general provide improved technology vs. built-in navigation systems."

All of the companies seem to agree that ease of use is a priority for them. Dave Marsh, director of Navigation Products for Cobra Electronics, agrees. "The number one feature is ease of use. Consumers are busy today; they don't have time to read a manual, set up a complicated system, or follow special instructions to use a mass market product. Our product development effort has centered on making the most easy to use product in the category -- something that is off-the-shelf, out-of-the-box, and into-your-car," Marsh said.

If everyone pretty much agrees on what features consumers want, then what features do they feel distinguishes their products?

"TomTom's interface makes it very easy and intuitive to use, and our navigation products have great 3D maps for better visualization. The GO 300 and GO 700 feature Bluetooth connectivity and the GO 700 supports the Bluetooth connection for hands-free calling between the unit and a cell phone," said Drake.

Marsh said, "Cobra designed the NAV ONE 4500 to answer American consumers' needs and wants in portable navigation. From our research, these include a large, bright screen that is easy to glance at even if you wear glasses or you are looking at it in harsh sunlight; truly portable, fully integrated devices with no professional installation or special connections required; and a consumer-tested user interface designed for ease of use."

Everyone agrees that the future is bright for these portable systems and can see a time when they can also become entertainment centers as well. "The category will certainly continue to include Bluetooth connectivity, and we'll probably start to see additional entertainment and on-demand features," added Drake.

Marsh concluded by saying, "Since its high-priced debut over 15 years ago as an OEM-added option in luxury vehicles, mobile navigation has continued to penetrate new market segments. Scene-stealing portables have become a more affordable and approachable option. ... Overall, the market winners will be those who concentrate on the best combination of features and price."

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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