"We continue to focus on what we do best, which is innovating stuff," Garmin spokesman Ted Gartner said.
I have to say, I find that quote particularly interesting, considering how often other companies are beating Garmin to the punch these days. Which begs the question, has Garmin reached a point where they no longer innovate, preferring to play it safe? Let’s look at recent innovations in consumer GPS products and where they are coming from:
- Connectivity – Yes, Garmin brought MSN Direct services to two GPS units this year, but Dash Navigation is really leading the way here, utilizing position data to gauge traffic flow and travel time.
- Internet access – Dash wins this one too, allowing users access to Yahoo! Local Search.
- Restaurant reviews – Sure, your Garmin will tell you where
the nearest Vietnamese restaurant is, but can it tell you if it’s any
good? Garmin does have their Travel Guides, but reportedly they are pretty lame. Navigon and Delphi, the latter not exactly known as a leader in innovation, have beat Garmin to the punch with Zagat restaurant reviews at no extra charge.
- 3-D navigation – Okay, NAVTEQ has this available. When will we see it on our nuvis? Mio recently announced that the C620 will feature 3-D navigation.
- User-generated content – TomTom is letting users make changes to maps and share those updates with others.
- Aerial imagery – Who doesn’t want this on their GPS? If Jack Bauer can have it, why not the rest of us? DeLorme wins first bragging rights here. Heck, even Lowrance and Bushnell understand the desire for this.
- USGS topo maps – The recent Magellan Triton announcement that they will accept National Geographic TOPO! maps is quite exciting. Of course you can also view USGS topos on the DeLorme PN-20. Any backcountry aficionado will understand why it’s nice to have a 1:24,000 scale map on your GPS, so that you’re looking at contour intervals of 40 feet rather than 130 feet!
Meanwhile, what is Garmin doing that is innovative? At the recent Outdoor Retailer trade show, the
most exciting only product announcement from them was a sports watch without GPS. Ouch!
This all leads me to wonder, is there an opportunity for an upstart to take significant market share from Garmin? I can’t really see Magellan or Mio pulling into the number one position in GPS sales. TomTom could pull ahead, but the real threat might come from someone that can nail design and the interface, like Apple, should they decide to move into the personal navigation space.
Why it may not matter
Having said all that, let’s look at the other side of the issue. Many of the features above are not yet available. Some of the ones that are in place have been poorly implemented. If Garmin is second or third to the party on these feature sets, but their implementation and interface rock, they’ll still be the number one GPS manufacturer in the world.
Innovation around the corner?
If we are going to see a new high-end nuvi for the holidays, I expect we’ll hear an announcement in the next week or two. Hopefully Garmin will be adding something significant to their exisiting feature set.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a feeling that Garmin will finally make a significant upgrade to their handheld line. Topo U.S. 2008 gave me the hint. More on that tomorrow.