Navigation…Appliance or General Purpose

I’ve been pretty silent on the blog due to a ton of family related matters, not the least of which is the birth of my first grandson (Ed.: yeah, I know…grandson?). But it was this experience of moving my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson to Southern California from the San Francisco bay area that I was pondering the notion of whether standalone, dedicated navigation/GPS devices or nav/GPS-capable smartphones (or other combo devices) will reign supreme.

My experience basically entailed using my iPhone (or any other GPS-equipped device would suffice) plugged into the cigarette lighter (darned battery life!) and I used Google Maps to effectively travel from San Francisco, through the CA Central Valley, to Los Angeles (visit USC), and ending up in San Diego. We did a LOT of traversing through neighborhoods as we had several stops to see other people in LA and San Diego.

The Google Maps experience was not perfect. There were no turn-by-turn directions. There was no voice turn directions. There was lots of user intervention as the iPhone screen would blank out, Google Maps would crash from time to time, and any route recalculations had to be manually done on the fly. BUT, it’s free and all network related transactions are part of the iPhone data plan so no additional service fees as would be on something like the Dash Networks connected nav device (the device is basically a brick without the service…too bad!).

There are 2 meaningful trends going on today. Standalone navigation devices are getting increasingly “connected” to the Internet for location and context searches, as well as possibly updates to mapping data. And smartphones are increasingly being GPS equipped and have Google Maps or other mapping software installed. Yes, the experience of the standalone, dedicated nav devices are their differentiator as their focus is NOT web surfing, messaging, or phone calls…it’s navigation. But will the “it’s good enough” nature of the GPS capable smartphones as a converged, single device that we all have with us all the time ultimately overwhelm the dedicated nav devices? In a depressed or down economy where consumer spending on new, cool gadgets will definitely take a hit AND it appears that the core mobile devices are still enjoying top-of-the-list for consumers’ disposable income, dedicated nav devices will be impacted by the mass market lack of adoption. Niche use cases such as outdoors or other hardcore navigation-heavy scenarios will still go for dedicated nav.

Is this sentiment shared by the market? There is definitely a lot of rhetoric in the marketplace with mobile advertising, mobile marketing, location-based services related to other user experiences. It would seem to me that we’ll continue to see nav applications move more towards smartphones and converged devices.

What’s THE killer combo? Google Maps (free) with turn-by-turn on a converged device with voice prompts! When will we see that?

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