Garmin’s mobile strategy? Hardware!

Garmin yesterday night announced its entry in the club of mobile phone manufacturers with the launch of the Nuvifone, a handset combining voice, navigation and mobile browsing. With 3.5G connectivity, WiFi, Bluetooth, a camera and 3.5 inches touch screen it does offer some of the best of today’s technologies. But is it enough to make the Nuvifone a success?

GPS-enabled phone or phone-enabled GPS?
The GPS functionality is core in this device with navigation, local search with Google, geotagging of pictures with the embedded camera and access to Google’s Panoramio, an online database of geo-tagged picture. This partnership with Google is seen as a strong point by the industry: “it is interesting to see Garmin partnering with Google. From a navigation software perspective it will give them access to unlimited points of interest, richer content”, said Chris Hazelton, Senior Analyst at IDC Research. For Peter Friedland, equity research analyst a Soleil group: “We believe it is very important for Garmin to figure out ways to work with Google because we ultimately believe Google will be a dominant player in the mobile market with location-based search”.

However, there is nothing revolutionary in this phone. We would have expected a bit more from a Garmin phone, something really unique that could push the fans of the brand to buy it. It could have been a “complete GPS experience” with some additional software such as outdoor navigation, sport and fitness monitoring or geocaching - all of it being already available from Garmin but in multiple products. Or even some “buddy finder” type of application linked with IM, Facebook, or any other popular Web 2.0 social website.

Even if Garmin is not willing to talk about it now, screenshots from the Nuvifone seems to demonstrate it has a proprietary operating system. It means there will be no way to enhance its functionality with additional software such as “Blackberry-like” corporate push emails or any other third party application. Under this angle, the Nuvifone is not a Smartphone. As pointed out by Chris Hazelton: “This is the first convergence of a Personal Navigation Device (PND) and a phone; it might look like a semantic distinction, but it is not the same thing as the convergence between a PDA and a phone, which is a Smartphone”.

Launched less than two weeks before the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Nuvifone might find there some strong competitors. According to rumors, Nokia could launch a N98 Smartphone that would feature a large touch screen, a seven megapixel camera, GPS and the in-house Nokia Maps navigation software. Sony Ericsson is also expected to refresh its Smartphone line-up with built-in GPS and Wayfinder navigation software. On a larger scale most of the Smartphone vendors are expected to launch their next devices with built-in GPS, Apple iPhone included.


Thursday, January 31st 2008

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