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April 19, 2010

Personal Navigation Devices Feel Pressure from Cellphone Satellite Navigation
By Susan J. Campbell
TMCnet Contributing Editor

When you received your first cell phone, did you ever think you would be able to watch your favorite movie on its screen? Better yet, did you think there would come a day when you could use it to figure out how to get to your destination without actually making a call?

According to a recent Reuters (News - Alert) piece, Europeans are increasingly using their cell phones for just such a purpose. In their case, they are leaning to the cellphone for satellite navigation in cars. While this seems to make sense as an optimal application for the cell phone, it is also threatening the personal navigation industry, as noted by research firm comScore (News - Alert).

Navigation capabilities have long been in demand, but price points for many peripheral systems for the car kept many a would-be user at bay. When navigation was introduced on the smartphone, a whole new realm emerged in the industry. Now that Google and Nokia are offering free navigation on phones, competition for satellite navigation users has intensified.

Research from comScore found that 21.2 million consumers in five large European markets, including Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, used their cellphones in February for navigation. This figure represents a 68 percent in crease from usage just one year ago.

Interestingly, this figure compares to 20.4 million personal navigation devices sold in those markets in 2008 and 2009, according to GfK, another industry research firm. For personal navigation device makers like TomTom (News - Alert) and Garmin, the threat is very real.

TomTom and Garmin, among others, viewed in-car navigation as their stronghold, but the car is already the most common place to use cellphone navigation. In fact, 68 percent of cellphone navigation users accessed the service in a car or other vehicle, while only 27 percent did so while walking, running or cycling.

Interestingly, comScore also said that mobile subscribers using handsets with advanced positioning technology – known as assisted GPS (A-GPS), are even more likely to use maps in a vehicle. This technology is being increasingly found in smartphones.

"The higher incidence of A-GPS usage in cars suggests that the superior speed and precision in these devices are being used for more than just identifying locations -- they are being used as full in-car navigation systems," comScore analyst Alistair Hill said in a statement. "That these services offer similar functionality to premium services without the significant price-tag (News - Alert) has certainly contributed to their early success.”

Perhaps the question moving forward is whether or not personal navigation systems will find a place in smartphone technology to optimize the opportunity experience or continue to try and drive market presence. Considering the obstacles, the latter option seems like a death wish.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Marisa Torrieri


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