Will Apple Kill Garmin?

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The buzz in the tech world is that the 800-pound gorilla of GPS—that would be Garmin International—is about to get decked by no less than Apple, with the cudgel being the new $200 iPhone. Check out this on Slate where the argument is addressed in full.

The gist of it is this: The new iPhone will include new functions to include turn-by-turn navigation and will sell for less than Garmin’s base Nuvi navigator. But the iPhone has the phone, the MP3 player, the wireless access and so forth. Garmin’s Nuvi line encompasses a dizzying number of products—more than two dozen—and is a mainstay of the company’s consumer business.

The iPhone, so the argument goes, forced changes in the recording industry by offering affordable and legal downloading of music. And it panicked competing cellphone makers to develop easy-to-use icon-based touchscreen technology, hence the Blackberry 9500. Is it poised to do the same to the GPS industry? Garmin, no stranger to tech competition, is aware of this and has announced—what else?—the NuviPhone--which comes at the iPhone from the GPS segment just as Apple comes at GPS from the phone biz.

I’m not convinced that a navigation-capable iPhone is enough to knock off Garmin, however. The reason is that turn-by-turn street navigation has to work with effortless perfection and precision—nearly good enough is about the same as worthless. Garmin sells truckloads of Nuvis because they’re simple, reliable, easy to use and uncompromised in their basic task: getting you where you want to go, without a lot of extraneous gewgaws larding up the process.

Some users like the voice commands and, with no speaker, will the iPhone be able to do that? Probably not. How about mounts, antennas and the other accessories required by the would-be GPS ground navigator? Will Apple figure that out or get too hung up on the preciousness of sleek looks and an inscrutable operating logic? I have my doubts.

Garmin, on the other hand, is likely to be no more sure-footed in the phone market. The last time they tried this was in a loser of a product called the NavTalk Pilot. Nice idea. Nice execution, too. But the world just didn’t need a navigating phone or a phoning navigator. It may not yet.

But never mind all that, the bright side for consumers may be more competitive price pressure on Garmin’s products, especially the bottom to middle strata of the Nuvi line. I’d love to have a $99 turn-by-turn color navigator to replace the aging Quest I carry around in my briefcase.

What interests most about this is how—or even if—Apple will conceive of ground navigation in a fundamentally different and better way than Garmin already has. “Different” is the Apple ethos, while Garmin has a lock on “practical.”

This rumination has caused me to consider another question: What if Apple got into the airplane business? What would the FlyMac look like? I’ll wager that we already know that. Given the laws of aerodynamics and physics, it would be indistinguishable from a Cirrus, but with one significant exception: The avionics would be simple to use with no training required and other than a home key, everything would be driven by touch screens.

Come to think of it, I don’t know why we don’t have that already.

Comments (13)

Some of us are using devices like that already. For example, I use an HTC phone with built in GPS running PocketFMS.

Posted by: Daniel Foster | June 12, 2008 4:40 AM    Report this comment

Like Daniel I run a HTC with GPS and separate Street & Aviation software. It also provides: A Browser, Outlook & email as well as the normal phone functions. It amuses me that i-phones and Blackberries get so many column-inches with much less functionality.

Posted by: Frank Lappin | June 12, 2008 5:28 AM    Report this comment

I can picture an Apple/Cirrus hybrid that would let you type in your destination, sit back and listen to yr favorite tunes on shuffle mode, and wake you up when you land... maybe sooner than we think!

Posted by: mary again | June 12, 2008 5:38 AM    Report this comment

I doubt that Apple wants to dominate the hand held GPS world, but the new GPS equipped Iphone will undoubtedly be excellent and easy to use. Third parties will ad speakers and external antennas via the dock.

And don't forget, most of us only use car based GPS's for fun 95% of the time. We already know the rout home, to work, or to our clients. Its only the exceptional time when we need help. Since we will have our cell phone, Apple's GPS will be with us when we really need it. We just unplug the music and navigate. I bet it'll win.

Posted by: HENRY BUTLER | June 12, 2008 8:07 AM    Report this comment

The iphone will not affect Garmin at all. I have a GPS equipped Blackberry that runs Google Maps. (Google Maps is also the mapping program used by the Iphone)

In its current incarnation, Gmaps does not offer the kind of slick functionality that a dedicated garmin device provides. For example, gmaps does not provide the simplistic turn by turn instructions that the general public likes.

Instead, it provides a pointer showing your position on a map. Most airplane guys would probably like this better. But for the general public, a $150 dedicated Garmin navigator is a better buy.

Posted by: Don Mei | June 12, 2008 10:26 AM    Report this comment

It'll come to different people's needs.

I have a small, cheap, mobile phone. I can drop it, lose it and it's still a cheap $50 phone with "contacts" backed up on Verizon's website. It's just a small V325 Motorola color screen unit. It links to Outlook on my PC for contacts, when I want.

I have an IPaq that runs Anywhere Map and has a large screen and the nice screen makes it too large to use as a phone and to stuff into a pocket and too heavy to toss into the plane or car (like my couple ounce phone).

Perfectly happy with the "2 unit" solution.

In the car, I use VZ Navigator for street mapping on the tiny telephone screen and by voice - and it's 100% adequate (as long as I have cel coverage)

In the plane, I need the larger screen for the multitude of items that I need for situational awareness. Anywhere Map provides that functionality on the larger, (but heavier) Ipaq screen.

Some people will go for the "one device does all" concept and the rest of us will need 2 devices.

Ughhh! FlyMac? I'll have to learn even more cryptic icons that only a 9 year old understands.............

Good lord, I feel old, sometimes...

Maybe a small, do everything, $100 unit, with an integrated, bigger tri-fold screen and small keyboard?

That would work.

Posted by: MARC SALVISBERG | June 12, 2008 11:48 AM    Report this comment

I do have to say that the nice thing about a cell phone based gps is that its always with you.

I've used it to view the best way to get somewhere in Ny while on foot.(gee is 124 west 68th between 6th and 7th or 7th and 8th?)

I've used it to find the closes liquor store while vacationing in Miami. (since it knows, just punch "liquor store" into search and it gives you the closest ones)

Another issue with the "single box" solution is that we expect longer battery life out of our mobile phones than we do our GPS devices. I've used my bb as a gps on longish trips and with the GPS updating constantly and the display always on, it severely impacts battery life.

I have a bluetooth headset and have tried to make calls while navigating. While the gps and the phone both work fine together, the mapping is downloaded on the fly. So when you have a voice call going the lack of data means tha tthe map will not refresh. After 5 minutes your pointer is moving across a blank page.

This is clearly something that could easily be worked around. With the availability of $10 2gb microSD cards, you could download all maps and kep them on the device. But none of the mobile mapping apps let you do that.

Botom line is that if you are navigating with a phone, you are on the bleeding edge. You shouldnt count on it. But, unlike a GPS, its always with me, so its nice when it helps to save me time.


Posted by: Don Mei | June 12, 2008 1:33 PM    Report this comment

Apple will never jump into a market they can't dominate. And that means they'll never be in aviation, it's way too esoteric for Apple. And don't forget Garmin's hub and spoke organization of repair/tech shops. Who you gonna call, AT&T?

Just the same, it would be a breath of fresh air. Those old lo-res fish-finders are getting kind of long of tooth.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | June 12, 2008 8:59 PM    Report this comment

Don Mei -

It isn't between any of those avenues because 6th, 7th and 8th Avenues don't exist at 68th Street.

Just being a pain in the ass New Yorker.

(It would be between Broadway and Columbus Avenue.)

Posted by: DAVID CAVALIER | June 24, 2008 7:47 PM    Report this comment

Apple and Garmin are both knee-deep in consumer products and GPS satellites aren't coming down any time soon. But Apple won't go near a skinny vertical market like aviation or it would have back when it could have squashed HP, Compaq and Dell with a hand-held aviator. Garmin, as you may have noticed, is still raking it in with decades-old fish-finders and their reluctance to come up with anything new, other than to pay off the R&D costs of their panels should indicate that they missed the convergence boat by a long shot. That does NOT mean that Garmin is cutting a deal with a telecom carrier because that is one of the essential bricks in this or any consumer products project.
Ah yes, the question: will Apple kill Garmin? Not if Garmin stays in navigation; yes if Garmin tries to take a bite out of telecom.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | June 25, 2008 6:38 AM    Report this comment

FYI, the iPhone already has a speaker. Small point to make, but at least that would not be an obstacle.

Posted by: Grant Opperman | June 27, 2008 2:04 PM    Report this comment

I doubt Apple will kill Garmin, because I don't perceive any type of deep hatred out there for Garmin like I've seen for Microsoft. Microsoft spent years creating a market for Apple long before Steve Jobs turned the company around - and I haven't seen Garmin doing this with it's current customers. If Garmin users are comfortable with their Garmin products [which work], a better Apple product, even if it's cheaper, may not be enough for folks to toss aside what they already own (or 2 of what they own, if we're sticking with the topic of cellular & GPS integration technology). I have six Apple products in my house, and only two Garmin. Perhaps someone who has used both Apple & Garmin products more extensively can share what they think. I would love to see an Apple version of Garmin's Cirrus Perspective, but that will probably never happen . . .

Posted by: Mike Oates | July 4, 2008 12:37 AM    Report this comment

Apple doesn't make cheap products. All their stuff is premium: that's the proposition. Although their hardware was usually superior to HP, Dell, Toshiba, et. al., and their OS generally beat WinX, they went for the personal market when it was IBM's and defined themselves then, as now, as alternative, not mainstream.

Garmin has no place to go but up. Their software has to get better; their version of a "Mac" competitor in aviation (on the low end) is Control Vision. Like IBM facing down Apple, it's not technical superiority that counts, it's penetration. Apple is far too late to make a dent in aviation. (sorry for the word)

When (not if) Garmin streams fuel prices via satellite (like Control Vision's 100LL) they will become as fundamental to flying and driving as stripes down the middle of the road.

Remember, they are a marketing company first, a technology company second: their shareholders demand no less.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | July 4, 2008 7:13 AM    Report this comment

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