Map-ready phones will not kill GPS devices

GPS-enabled mobile phones will pose some competition for standalone devices, but the latter will not go extinct just yet, say industry voices.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

In spite of a slew of new GPS apps for mobile phones, dedicated GPS devices are not likely to go extinct "any time soon", according to an Ovum analyst.

GPS device maker, TomTom, released a GPS app for the iPhone two weeks ago, and HTC on Thursday announced a voice-guided GPS application from Sygic for its Magic device.

Such apps turn mobile devices into GPS-enabled guides for drivers, competing directly with in-car GPS devices.

ZDNet Asia asked industry spokespeople if these events signaled the extinction of traditional dedicated GPS devices.

Jeremy Green, mobile practice leader at Ovum, said it is unlikely that dedicated devices be taken over by GPS-enabled mobiles, because GPS-only devices do the job better.

Compared to phones, which are multitasking as they provide the maps function, GPS devices are able to get a position-fix more quickly, as well as preserve battery life for longer, he said.

Furthermore, GPS device makers are dedicating resources to enhance their offerings, to differentiate them from the crowd, the analyst said. For example, fuel-saving routes, he said.

And the influx of GPS-enabled mobile phones may help push down the cost of dedicated devices, by driving up GPS chip volumes, he added. "There's still plenty of [opportunity] left for [dedicated devices] in both the pre-installed and after-market space."

A spokesperson for GPS device maker, Garmin, said: "Most phones contain cameras, but most people still own a dedicated digital camera because camera phones typically don't include the hardware or software that is required to take high-quality photos that people desire."

Drawing on that analogy, phones are not "ideally suited for navigation", he said, citing small screen size and difficulty in inputing instructions on phones, as some barriers.

Garmin has no plans to release a separate app for other mobile devices, given its commitment to the nuviphone device it built together with Asus, he said.

Touting the benefits of a dedicated mapping device, he said downloadable apps on other phones which rely on Internet-served maps provide a comparatively sluggish experience to the nuviphone's onboard maps, he said.

Adding to that, he said some phones may not be able to handle multitasking well, which will blunt the navigation experience if users have to suspend or shut down their mapping applications to use the phone's other applications.

The phone advantage
But phones have one advantage over GPS devices--a more intimate understanding of their owners, said Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google.

He told ZDNet Asia in an interview, the ability for phones to connect to the Web opens the door to location-based services (LBS). Compared to standalone GPS devices, phones have access to information about users' schedules, and can combine that with Web access to perform functions traditional GPS gadgets cannot.

For example, a phone which knows it is far away from a meeting scheduled soon will be able to alert its user to send an e-mail to the meeting participants that the user will be late, he said.

"It will be tough for a GPS device to just be a GPS... Locating where you are will become a piece of information you expect your phone to have, like [telling] the time," he said.

Geraldine Kor, Asia-Pacific customer marketing director of mapmaker, Navteq, told ZDNet Asia LBS is expected to ramp up in light of the growth of smartphones and GPS capabilities across other devices such as digital cameras and portable media players.

"Location-ready phones will provide consumers with easy access to relevant local content, which will generate additional pull as consumer experience grows," she said.

LBS will also open new advertising opportunities, making LBS "increasingly attractive" for providers, she noted.

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