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Standalone GPS Receivers Going the Way of the Dodo 422

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that more than 40 percent of all smartphone owners and 80 percent of iPhone users use their mobile devices to get turn-by-turn directions driving down sales of traditional standalone GPS units from companies like TomTom, Garmin and Magellan. During the first quarter, TomTom said it shipped 29 percent fewer GPS units compared with the period in 2008 while Garmin's unit sales fell 13 percent from the previous year. While smartphones are susceptible to interruptions from incoming phone calls and using the mapping features for a long time can chew through battery power, the list of the smartphone's shortcomings is dwindling as some of the latest navigation applications offer voice navigation and take advantage of the phone's always-connected state to offer real-time traffic updates, directions to contacts in the phone's address book and more. 'I've not stopped using a GPS because I never bought one in the first place — they are expensive and inconvenient,' says Steve Weller. 'Now with the iPhone, I will actually use GPS — and the 10 other functions it replaces.' The traditional GPS device companies are trying to adapt, seeking to expand their reach into the smartphone market. TomTom recently announced that it would introduce a portable navigation application for the iPhone that would feature turn-by-turn directions and audio prompts. 'The simplicity of having one device and not needing to pull the Garmin out of my glove compartment is enough,' says Andrew DiMarcangelo. 'I want to get into my car and do as few things as possible.'"
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Standalone GPS Receivers Going the Way of the Dodo

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  • Already there (Score:3, Informative)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:26AM (#28636233)

    If I recall correctly it's been for years that TomTom and Garmin have been offering GPS apps for Symbian phones. That's probably all their business will be about in a few years anyways.

  • Re:not surprising.. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:26AM (#28636245)

    Phone gps doesn't use cell tower triangulation. It is a real gps receiver.

  • Re:not surprising.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by The Salamander ( 56587 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:30AM (#28636337)

    That's not even an advantage anymore, as several apps can cache the maps for usage when away from coverage.

    My app, iTopoMaps, is specifically designed for this usage as it provides USGS topographic maps in the backcountry. I've had countless users tell me they've stopped using their Garmins, etc.

    Battery life is still an issue compared to commercial units, and the GPS isn't the best, but hopefully that will be remedied soon by some external bluetooth units.

  • by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:32AM (#28636383) Homepage Journal

    Actually I am excited because while I have never even held a GPS unit, I'm guessing soon I will be able to get one on ebay for a few bucks.

  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:36AM (#28636473)

    My dad's in his late 60's and I got him a TomTom for christmas. That's what he wanted. It's simple enough for him to use and he doesn't have any problems with figuring it out. The screen is large and easy for him to read. I also know a number of hunters and hikers who go to places were the GPS in cell phones won't work, but a GPS receiver still will.

    I just add a Cell phone for him to my plan for fathers day. (He had a crappy pre-paid one in the car for emergancies, but he never used it because it didn't work on the farms.). It has turn by turn naviation, if you want to pay for the feature, but he's never going to use it. First off the screen is too small and he barely uses it now to make phone calls. I think I've called him more than anything.

    Now take me. I have an iPhone. I use the turn by turn directions on a regular basis. I have no need to get a Tom Tom. I use my iPhone. There are different markets here that are served by different products. Now, they may not sell as many GPS systems, but they still have their uses.

  • Oh, really? (Score:3, Informative)

    by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:39AM (#28636523)

    As TFS itself points out, much of the navigate-by-smartphone market is people who wouldn't have bought a GPS anyway. Either they didn't like the idea, or for some it would never even have occured to them... but put it in their hands as an add-on to something they do want, and voila!

    The GPS market, meanwhile, has a lot of people who either need and/or are conditioned to believe they need a specialized device rather than an add-on feature to a generic electronic gadget.

    So why would stand-alone GPS sales be down? Hmm, I just can't seem to think of any other factor that might be in play []

  • by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:41AM (#28636559)

    It's all hype.

    No smartphone is waterproof and can be easily read in direct sun while mounted to a motorcycle handlebar.

    No smartphone can do what my field guide GPS can do. (Give me elevation maps... oh the iphone cant do that? sowwwy.)

    No smartphone can work well on a boat at 55mph across the water and it does not interface to my autohelm.

    Only a utterly complete fool would think the standalone GPS is going the way of the DoDo bird.

    I think they're making the assumption that the only place a GPS is used is attached to the dashboard of a car.

  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:43AM (#28636575) Homepage Journal

    I've owned a Garmin for well over a decade, and I've not seen one app on any phone that could match it for functionality. All the apps-on-phones will show you a map (usually network scraped from Google Maps or the like), but very few will have a single-key "Mark This Spot" (aka Man Overboard), or an easy Waypoint database, or easy Routing between waypoints, or measure useful things like Velocity Made Good (velocity towards target, not velocity in your current heading). I've seen little support for logging tracks to a simple file format you can retrieve for analysis (like geotagging photos from non-phone cameras), because phones and phone apps don't like to support file systems. When GPS apps actually perform better than GPS units at common GPS tasks, then I'll be interested.

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <> on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:43AM (#28636589)

    I've never even used a dedicated GPS navigation device at all; I went straight to a general-purpose device in the form of a good Pocket PC (iPAQ hx4700) and a separate Bluetooth GPS receiver (Globalsat BT-338). The iPAQ does a multitude of other useful things when it's not being used as a navigator (PDA, PIM, MP3 player, Wi-Fi VOIP phone, universal remote control, etc.), has a 4-inch screen to rival most of the dedicated devices, and the batteries in the GPS receiver last 20 hours. I also have topographic nav software for it as well, so I can pop the extended battery onto the iPAQ and take the pair on the trail for a weekend backpacking trip. I've also been able to pick and choose from a variety of navigation software to use, which would NOT be an option with a dedicated device. The combined price tag was larger than an equivalent dedicated device, but the combined capabilities are far greater.

    Garmin, Magellan, TomTom, Navigon... eat your hearts out.

  • by BradleyUffner ( 103496 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:44AM (#28636603) Homepage

    No thanks, I'll stick with my Garmin please. I've used the GPS on my phone, and it takes over 5 minutes to get a lock. My 60CSx can get a lock in under 30 seconds, from INSIDE my house. It's batteries last all day too! My phone loses GPS signal under heavy cloud cover (or at least it seems like it), and it sucks the battery down like crazy. After using the phone's gps for an hour the battery is comepletely drained. Ohh yeah, the handheld GPS has magnetic compas and altimiter that can be used when standing still. Plus it's more rugged, water proof, and it floats, I feel much safer about taking my GPS into the woods, over rocks and streams, kayaking and boating than I do with my phone.

  • by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:27AM (#28637303)

    (disclaimer: I develop GPS applications for mobile devices, including the iPhone)

    The chipsets in mobile phones can't compete with those in standalone devices. When you're sharing power between multiple radios (wifi, bluetooth, GPS, 2/3/4/nG, etc), there's just not enough power available for a running a GPS that can compete with a good standalone unit. There's also the physical space issue: the GPS needs a decent antenna that has to share space with all the other components in a cell phone.

    For walking directions, this isn't a huge deal. But, I wouldn't trust my iPhone GPS for realtime directions when I'm traveling 50 miles per hour. The iPhone's GPS can't deliver updates fast enough to make quick decisions. Sure, it will sometimes, but all it takes is one delayed direction in 10 million to cause an accident. I could see it used on highways where the next turn is a few miles off, but for city driving where you might make a few quick turns, I can't see it working very well without some assistive technology.

    The apps we develop require a high degree of precision. We've had to develop technology to augment the GPS units in the mobile devices to provide this precision. I'm sure other companies have done this too, but it's not cheap to do and the optimizations tend to exploit specific features of the application (in other words, the tricks used for one application may not be practical for another).

    The parent also points out the maps issue: standalone GPS units don't need a connection to the internet to display maps. Most mobile apps due, simply because there isn't enough storage space on the devices to store all the map data users are accustomed to having at their fingertips (elevation, traffic, satellite, home prices, etc). The lack of a connection also makes hiking/biking/off-roading/boating apps useless on mobile devices - most of those activities take place where there's no network coverage.


  • by elcid73 ( 599126 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:28AM (#28637313)

    Pros: like others mentioned, my phone is already streaming pandora or playing music and occasionally taking calls/texts- having all of these being done by one device at the same time is a bottleneck -if not of hardware, then certainly of user interface

    Cons: my stand alone, dedicated, only has one job to do in it's whole stinking existence, GPS receiver takes *forever* to triangulate. Granted if I sit in one place it works relatively fast, but a large number of times I'm already moving when I need it to come to life. My iphone triangulates on cell towers to get me going "well enough" right away, and still even manages to triangulate GPS faster than my NUVI. This is a frustrating PITA.

    Also, the NUVI interface, although highly recommended by my user experience colleagues, is pretty cumbersome. Address entering that requires the STATE and CITY EVERY TIME is frustrating. I would like the menu choices of inputting addresses to a include "near me" option or have it done radially like google maps does.

  • by Sleepy ( 4551 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:51AM (#28637635) Homepage

    You're correct -- but so is the article hype.

    You know some people own MORE THAN ONE GPS for exactly the reasons you describe. If you hike more than once or twice a year, you're not going to take along your car GPS with you anymore, unless you are desperate. You're going to buy a rugged waterproof GPS like your example.

    At some point, your car's needs for a GPS can be served by the smart phones. For some people the phone's GPS meets their need NOW, for others it will be served soon.

    If you look through some REALLY old Sears or JC Penny catalogs, you'll see that they used to market "electric motors", all by themselves. People would buy add-on kits to make the motors do different things. The motors were too expensive and novel to have been embedded into another appliance, such as a washer machine.

    Nowadays you do NOT hook up a motor to a washer machine's crank - it's just another cog in the machine and you never think about it. You can still buy electric motors for specialized applications but for all intents and purposes, as a device it has 'gone away'. That's where the GPS is heading -- it's not just going to be built into every phone, but also every car, pedal bike, laptop, etc.

    You can expect "sporting GPS" sales to continue to rise until they are the most popular type sold, not because more people are exercising but because the car GPS market will fold into something else. It will be harder to replace a sporting GPS or fold it into something else, but that day will come (GPS in your boat's fish sonar?). Why not?

    And charging people who disagree with your viewpoint is not 'Insightful', it's trolling for attention. This isn't a debate about science vs. creation myth, it's just GPS. Relax!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 09, 2009 @12:09PM (#28637851)

    Sure it can -- log into google maps, and use the elevation maps feature.

    Believe it or not, the internet is not ubiquitous in most parts of the world, even less so in areas where people are going to need a damn elevation map.

    Sure they can -- put them in aeroplane mode and use the GPS chip as normal.

    Accuracy, precision and refresh time of smartphone GPS's are garbage compared to a dedicated specialist unit, and this doesn't even consider the lack of proper screen size, mounting, and specialised indicators for use in maritime and aviation.

    Most of them are sat just inside a car windscreen giving turn-by-turn directions

    GPS has been out much longer in commercial and government spheres then it has in the hands of the consumer. Private and government entities have actual applications where this technology produces real benefit providing hefty incentive to use them where possible, so I doubt what you say is true at all.

    it's not like you can use your phone while driving anyway.

    Last I checked it was illegal to use your phone whilst driving in many countries around the world.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @12:36PM (#28638187) Homepage

    The only thing it dosen't do is give you real time directions, or have cached maps. Real time directions would be nice, but I think you'd still be screwed with the phone company's version if you go out of cell range.

    Real time directions aren't just nice, they're exactly why I bought a dedicated GPS unit -- the 3d look-down view which actually shows you the perspective and upcoming roads. I was in a cab once and had only ever seen the standard 2d map view before -- I was blown away, as he turned onto streets the view changed to match the perspective of looking forward; the second street on the right is actually the second street on the right.

    IMO, having a 4.3" widescreen Tom Tom mounted on my windshield in such a way as I can see the road and it at the same time, knowing I've got maps for essentially all of North America already in the device, and that really useful 3d look-down is the best parts of a dedicated GPS. I can read upcoming street names off the GPS mounted on my windshield before I can even see the street sign in many cases. If you miss a turn or there's construction, it re-calculates routes as you go. In some ways, it's like having a Heads Up Display of the roads.

    Google maps is nice for looking things up when you're not moving, but while driving a view which shows the roads from your current perspective means you can visualize where you're going and see it at the same time.

    I don't see dedicated GPS devices going anywhere. I wouldn't carry a phone as large as my Tom Tom, and a GPS the size of my cell phone would be too damned tiny. For my money, the $200 or so I spent on my Tom Tom was worth every penny. My mother bought one for my father this Christmas, and once he figured out how to use it, he's really come to see the value in it.


  • by Kagura ( 843695 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @06:25PM (#28643419)
    You are talking about the PLGR (pronounced "plugger"), which is a huge brick that only has a number read-out, no map display. They are using a new one called the DAGR (pronounced "DAGR") which is smaller and has a map display like typical consumer GPSes. That said, I have only seen and used the giant brick-type PLGRs. None of the units I've been to have had the much newer DAGR.

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