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'Satnavs are definitely not doomed', insists TomTom man

No grim future of joblessness for me!

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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. ®

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