Sunday, March 18, 2012

Garmin – Failure to innovate?


"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 accessDash 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 contentTomTom 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.

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. I agree with the fact that Garmin has no been really innovative for recent years. It also should be mentioned that the prices for Garmin device are overestimated in 30-40% and that the development trend (non GPS watch, lack of new products and really useful features) is a bit confusing. But Garmin still makes high quality devices with very good (not excellent) mapping software and map coverage.

  2. I share your view as I was also amused by the fact that the only product Garmin has announced during Salt Lake City show was a product without GPS !
    Garmin see a big demand for the fitness market and is willing to invest it but it has never showed real innovation and is building its revenue on quite old product family with a big segmentation.
    There is so much to do in outdoor or marine stuff!

  3. I heard that Garmin should present a very innovative device for biker during IFA in Berlin
    Will see…

  4. Pascal,
    Thanks for the tip. Do you mean for the motorcyclist or bicyclist?

  5. Oh sorry, I am too narrow minded, I mean the bicyclist (hope I did not make a mistake 🙂

  6. So yes, I cross my mind… It is for sure for bicybiker as it should be announced in Eurobike show and not IFA as stated above

  7. Cool. Maybe we’ll get an Edge with maps!

  8. I see that you mention the Dash Navigation unit. Can you please let everyone know how well your unit is working as well as where everyone can buy one and how much they cost? Could you also let everyone know how much the monthly fee is as well?

  9. Jimmy,
    It looks to me like Dash is a little behind schedule. The units are not yet available except to a limited group of testers, all operating under a non-disclosure agreement. We do have some info on pricing here…
    Sorry the video is no longer available.

  10. Hey Pascal, looks like you were right. And we did get an Edge with maps!

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