As a phone, Garmin’s entry occupies the lower mid-range with a three-megapixel camera, native T-Mobile 3G and Wi-Fi. Built-in storage hasn’t been mentioned but should be enough to carry offline maps in addition to the usual app and media storage.
After it’s first attempt to create a Garmin branded phone called the G60, Garmin is back once again with the A50. But this time making a much more strategic choice by adopting an open platform: Google’s Android phone OS. I wrote about Garmin’s response to the coming Smartphone onslaught to it’s dominance of the GPS navigation market. This was after I read this article in the NYTimes: Move Over GPS, Here Comes the Smartphone – (July 8, 2009). At that time Navigon which had been in the market for GPS navigation, dropped out and went to software only licensing to device manufacturers. Whispers and rumors indicated TomTom was going to license its software as well. By Fall 2009 TomTom had shipped an iPhone version of its product. It looked like a form of paradigm shift that kills an industry overnight. GPS navigation was evolving to a software only industry. Devices themselves were better handled by the likes of Samsung, Apple, etc. When the Garmin nuviphone finally reached the market, the only review I found was on Consumer Reports. And they were not overly positive in touting what the phone did differently from a a standalone navigation unit. And worse yet, they had spent two years in development of this device only to have it hit the market trumped by the TomTom iPhone App. It was a big mistake and likely to make Garmin more wary of trying another attempt at making a device.
Hope springs eternal it seems at Garmin. They have taken a different tack and are now going the open systems route (to an extent). It seems they don’t have to invent everything themselves. They can still manufacture devices and provide software, but they don’t have to also create an OS that allows things to be modularly integrated (Phone and GPS) and given that they chose Android, things can only get better. I say this in part because over time it has become obvious to me Google is a real fan of GPS navigation and certainly of Maps.
When I bought my first GPS unit from Garmin, I discovered that you can save out routes direct from Google Maps into a format that a Garmin GPS receiver can use. I know in the past Garmin forced it’s users to first purchase a PC application that allowed you to plan and plot routes then save them back to your receiver. Later it was made less expensive and eventually it was included with the purchase of new units. I’ve seen screen shots of this software and it was clunky, black and white, and more like a cartography mapping program than a route planner. On the other hand, Google Maps was as fast and intuitive as driving your car. You click on a start point, and end point and it would draw the route right on top of the satellite photos of your route. You could zoom in and out and see, actually see points of interest on your route. It seems in one stroke Google Maps stole away route planning from Garmin.
In the intervening time Google also decided to get in the Smartphone business to compete with Apple. Many of Google’s web apps are accessed through iPhones, so why not tap into that user base who might be willing to adopt a device from the same people running the datacenter and applications hosted in them? It might not be a huge number of users, but Google has money and time and can continuously improve anything it does until it becomes the most competitive player in a market it has chosen to compete in. Tying this all together one can see the logical progression from Google Maps to Google Smartphone. And even Google came up with some prototypes showing what this might look like:
Google made a video showing how Google Maps, and Streetview could be integrated on an Android 2.0 device. And it looked good. It was everything someone could have wanted, navigation, text to speech directions, the ability to zoom in and out, go to Streetview to get an accurate photo of the street address. There were some bits of unpolished User Interface that they still needed to work on. But prototypes and demos are always rough.
The video they posted led me to believe I would stick to my Garmin device, as it still had some logical organization that it would take years for Google to finally hit upon. My verdict was to wait and see what happened next. With Garmin’s announcement today though, things are even a little more interesting than I thought they would be. I can’t wait to see the demo of the final device when it ships. I definitely want to see how they integrate the navigation interface with the Web based Google Maps. If they’re separated as different Apps, that’s okay I guess but a Mashup of Garmin navigation and Google Maps with Streetview would be a Killer App. Mix in live network connection for updates on traffic, construction, and Points of Interest and there’s no telling how high they will fly. Look at this video from MobileBurn.com :
Now all I need is a robot chauffeur to drive my car for me.