'Satnavs are definitely not doomed', insists TomTom man
No grim future of joblessness for me!
IFA With satnav companies announcing revamped apps all over IFA Berlin, you'd be forgiven for thinking that moving onto smartphones and tablets was the game plan for a market that has seen sales plummet in the last few years.
TomTom, Garmin and Navigon all saw fit to use the show to announce their updated-in-various-ways apps, which, when taken with falling consumer sales and dire consumer predictions, seem to point to a move away from hardware.
But Richard Piekaar, investor relations director at TomTom, says it isn't so.
"I always use the example of cameras on phones," he told The Reg. "Just because you have a camera on your phone doesn't stop you from buying a digital camera."
Piekaar argues that there is a large compromise in quality between the navigation available on your smartphone and the personal navigation device (PND). The first problem is the GPS antenna, which needs to be something of a whopper to pick up the extremely weak signal the satellites are beaming out. Because there's no real room in the ever-decreasing size and ever-lightening burden of smartphones, the antennas are never good enough.
"When you're going fast in a car, the information doesn't get downloaded on time and directions get skipped," Piekaar says.
Small screens are also a problem when you're attempting to drive using satnav, although the advent of fondleslabs does somewhat take care of this, as TomTom surely agrees since its IFA offering was an upgrade of its app to include optimisation for iPad. But although Piekaar sees some market on tablets, he's not totally convinced.
"The only question is if the screen's not too big and if people want to work with their tablets this way," he says. "I don't think the tablet will be the form factor for in-car navigation."
For Piekaar, smartphones and tablets are for pedestrian navigation, but once you're behind the wheel, you're still going to need a PND. However, he does acknowledge that TomTom knows what everyone else knows: the market for PNDs in Europe and the US is not looking so hot.
"At some level, that decline will level off, but it's unclear at what level and when," he says.
But Piekaar lays the blame for that decline squarely at the door of our old friend the global economic downturn, adding he has no illusions "that we can turn this around in the next few quarters". In fact, TomTom is predicting that the global PND market will decline by about 20 per cent in 2011.
Piekaar is still optimistic about satnavs, however, and his rivals seem to be too. As well as announcing its revised apps at IFA, Garmin last month launched a long list of new hardware devices, including the nüvi 30/40/50 series, 2405 and 2505 series and the premium 3400 series. ®
@AC, re TomTom
I've got quite an old TomTom (a One v3 with Euro maps) that I find very useful indeed. Its maps are a little out of date, but not disaterously so. I quite happily go all over Europe and it's not let me down once. On a recent family holiday in rural France I was the only one to make it direct to the remote farmhouse we were staying in with no difficulty at all. It even knew about the driveway. Everyone else with mobiles, newer satnavs that had cheap / partial euro maps, etc. spent hours driving round the countryside lost either because they couldn't get a mobile signal, or the roads weren't on the map, etc.
I was vaguely thinking of getting a newer one, but from I've read here today I think that I'll stick with the one I've got. I don't want to use a phone either because they're expensive to buy and aren't quite as good (worse GPS in my experience, reliance to some extent on mobile coverage, voice too quiet, stupid things like auto screen blanking that the app can't control, can't make a phone call and navigate at the same time, etc. etc.). If they just made a slightly newer One v3 then I'd buy that.
Why oh why does shiny mediocrity succeed over old fashioned yet effective clunkiness? Do people want to be stylish more than they want to get to their desination with ease? Why would anyone buy a £400 smartphone and use it to navigate and suffer the inevitable compromises when a 4 year old £100 TomTom argueably does a better job?
I suspect that it works this way:
Punter: "Does this smart phone do satnav?"
Sales dude: "Of course"
Punter: "And it is nice and shiny too..."
whereas it should work this way:
Punter: "What's the GPS receiver sensitivity in dBm?"
Sales dude: "Errrr"
Punter "And what's the GPS antenna pattern like?"
Sales dude: "Welllllll"
Punter: "What the peak antenna gain?"
Sales dude: "4?"
Punter: "And what's the average time-to-update for map corrections from the date the road layout changed?"
Sales dude: "blurb blurb"
Punter: "and what's the map resolution? And what's the average time from traffic jam forming to autorecalculation of my route?"
To make a useful comparison between satnavs, either phone or standalone, these are the sort of data that is actually needed. But none of the companies supplies it. So a level of mediocre performance has become the accepted norm and the general public will use the half baked products in ignorance of the fact that they could be a *lot* better than they currently are. And the trouble with mediocrity is that it has a way of letting you down just when you really, really want the damn thing to work properly.
I don't want my sat-nav ringing, I want it telling me which exit to take. I want a separate box ringing which I can either ignore, pull over to answer, or ask my passenger to deal with while I get on with driving.
Smartphones are like the swiss-army knife of the electronics world. They do a bunch of things and can be convinient, but theres times when you want proper tools, either because they work better, or you just want the separation.
First, lets talk about accuracy.
Your in dash sat nav has an external antennae (Sitting on your dash) as well as accelerometers that help you keep track of your location when you lose signals from sats. Your phone? Not so well.
Also even with GPS-A (Assisted GPS) which is on your phones... you're still off by 100 meters or so.
Just stand still and watch your position move. Heck, you could be seated outside of your favorite pub and get a 'workout' as your phone bounces you around trying to 'pinpoint' your position. Cars have it easy because they can snap your location to the road link. (This removes the jitter)
Your in dash sat nav doesn't constantly update Google or Apple with your location. ;-) So while the app is free, you're really making money for Google.
While I wouldn't own a TomTom, the guy in the article is correct.