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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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  • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:27AM (#28636255)
    With the downturn in the economy it only stands to figure that gizmos like GPS are falling off a lot of people's shopping lists. I won't deny that some are taking the cheaper route and using an existing device for their nav but how many are using it because they have it and not because they really wanted it to begin with?

    Couple this with more and more cars coming equipped with these devices already installed.

    Between these three factors I think it's a bit easier to see where the slide is happening. Simply assuming that it's all phone based is short sighted.
  • I'm one of them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:29AM (#28636309)
    I've never owned a stand-alone GPS, but back in January I picked up a Blackberry Storm, which is the first "smart phone" that I've owned. Frankly, if there is anything about this phone that actually justifies having it, it would most definitely be Google Maps, which can talk to the GPS chip in the phone to find out where I am and were I'm going without having to pay for the Verizon Navigator thing or for a separate GPS device. If it's not too cliche, I'd say that it really has changed my life for the better as I used to get lost all the time (with a 5-digit Slashdot ID at age 25, I clearly don't get out much).
  • by lorenzo.boccaccia ( 1263310 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:30AM (#28636313)
    the real wtf is that the tomtom navigator for iPhone has it's own standalone gps receiver as the one on the iPhone were not good enough... citation needed incline, click here: []
  • by mwilliamson ( 672411 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:31AM (#28636349) Homepage Journal
    Never, and I repeat, NEVER agree to pay for GPS "service." You already have in your federal taxes. These ***hole cellphone companies that charge you for GPS are full of themselves. I will never use a phone-based GPS if it costs me a penny extra. Vote with your wallet.
  • by a2wflc ( 705508 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:31AM (#28636359)

    29 and 13% fewer sales may be meaningful, but may not. How much have sales of other items fallen in this economy? What % of people who would use a GPS had bought one in previous years so didn't need one this year. I've been looking at getting one of these for a few years, and late 2007 was the first time the price & features were what I was looking for. So I could see 2008 being a big selling year for anyone who wanted one and thus 2009 would be a drop off from 2008. (I finally bought my first one 2 weeks ago so there's at least one example counter to my argument but I still think it's possible)

  • I've got one. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bloobloo ( 957543 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:32AM (#28636363) Homepage

    Why would I need to buy another one? My mobile phone gets wear and tear in my pocket, but my GPS stays in the car, until I need to update the maps. So there's really no need to upgrade on a continuous cycle.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:35AM (#28636447) Homepage

    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.

  • by sheepofblue ( 1106227 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:38AM (#28636507)

    You pay for the significant effort expended to create the maps. You pay for the receiving hardware. You pay for the support and R&D in the prior mentioned items. If they also had to provide the sats then it would be beyond the means of many of the people that use the system today. So vote on, I did I have a standalone unit that I use on my motorcycle all the time.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:39AM (#28636529)

    Only reason Garmin and TomTom sold hardware was because there was no other way. with the iphone and other cell phones becoming more powerful there is no reason to sell hardware anymore since all the value is in the software. TomTom is going to sell a whole kit for the iphone that includes the software, and a way to mount it on your windshield and plug it in so the battery doesn't wear out

  • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:39AM (#28636533)

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

    No smartphone can do what my field guide GPS can do. (Give me elevation maps... oh the iphone cant do that? sowwwy.)
    Sure it can -- log into google maps, and use the elevation maps feature.

    No smartphone can work well on a boat at 55mph across the water and it does not interface to my autohelm.
    Sure they can -- put them in aeroplane mode and use the GPS chip as normal.

    Only a utterly complete fool would think the standalone GPS is going the way of the DoDo bird.
    Only a utterly complete fool would think that most standalone GPS units are used for what you just outlined. Most of them are sat just inside a car windscreen giving turn-by-turn directions, for which, a smartphone is totally ideal -- it's not like you can use your phone while driving anyway.

  • by manekineko2 ( 1052430 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:43AM (#28636583)

    Most (all?) smartphone GPS packages I have seen don't store the maps locally, but instead stream them from a central server over the cellular link. Hence, even using real GPS, the ones I have seen don't work outside of cell range, which is a huge downside.

  • by rhsanborn ( 773855 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:44AM (#28636593)
    For hiking, and boating it doesn't fit. But Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom have been rolling in piles of cash from the market of individuals who want turn by turn in their cars or as toys. It sounds like they are losing that market, and a big market it is. There will still exist the niche markets which existed before. Recreational motoring, and serious hiking, etc.
  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:44AM (#28636597) Homepage

    GPS only provides your position, not map data.

    The navigation services offered by providers give you the map data and the routing algorithms to do more with that GPS than feed you a string of numbers.

    Use of the GPS receiver in AT&T devices is 100% free unless you want to use Telenav, which provides map data, POI searches, and routing functionality. If you don't like the idea of paying for service, you can pay Garmin for standalone software that does the same thing. (Or, if you live outside the US, TomTom - TomTom Navigator is no longer sold to US customers starting with Navigator 7.)

  • by joeflies ( 529536 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:47AM (#28636655)

    If 80% of the iPhone users use it for turn by turn directions RIGHT NOW, just what application are they using? If they are referring to the google maps application, it isn't something that you'd use while driving, like a true GPS device does. It's the same as using your web browser to get directions to a location and printing it out, but conveniently the article doesn't mention the percentage of users who use the web browser to print directions. It just simply took a simple scenario, distorted the facts and presented it as evidence.

    It also didn't mention other big reasons that people don't buy standalone GPS devices - it's already integrated in the car. A second factor is that buying standalone devices increases the chances of someone breaking into the car to stealing it, often causing more damage than the device is worth.

  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:48AM (#28636663) Journal

    Anyone telling us that dedicated GPS is going the way of the dinosaur is talking marketing drivel and trying to sell you a phone with a GPS.

    The chips sets in the phones I've tried including the one on my Nokia 6220 classic are complete crap compared to my TomTom one XL or my Garmin Etrex Legend Hcx. The dedicated GPS units lock on quickly and continue to work if you take them indoors. (Sometimes they even lock on indoors, which amazes me because I live in a 2 story house). In contrast my phone GPS takes ages, loses the signal easily and to top it off if I want maps or assisted GPS I have to pay for it.

    Not to mention the fact that they're more useful in a car rather than attached to a mobile phone (which is illegal to operate while driving a vehicle where I live). I'd expect rather to see them built into cars more and more as standard.

    Unfortunately the GPS companies are also trying to make you pay again and again with map updates. Still, phones also require map updates. I'd love to see a GPS come on the market that used open maps (Open maps do exist!) and attached into some standard sized dashboard module. Let the hardware manufacturers make their money honestly on the hardware.

  • by RoverDaddy ( 869116 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @10:59AM (#28636847) Homepage
    Wish I could mod you up. This the point the GP misses. All the scenarios he mentions are niches, which probably will not see the GPS being replaced by smartphones in the near future. However, if companies like Garmin et. al. have to go back to catering only to those niche markets, there will be a lot of bleeding to be done. The standalone GPS might as well go extinct for the amount of shrinkage its market will see.
  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:00AM (#28636875) Homepage

    You can buy one but it will suck. It's about maps. My Tom Tom is one year old, and it already gets me into trouble because the maps on it are out of date. Tom Tom requires $10/month for their map update service. What crap!

    On a smartphone, you get free access to current maps. Why would anyone pay Tom Tom's $10/month fee?

  • by mrboyd ( 1211932 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:01AM (#28636897)
    And my garmin still use AA battery which mean I can change them in the field and procure new one easily anywhere. thanks.
  • by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:05AM (#28636939)

    Only a utterly complete fool would think that most standalone GPS units are used for what you just outlined. Most of them are sat just inside a car windscreen giving turn-by-turn directions, for which, a smartphone is totally ideal -- it's not like you can use your phone while driving anyway.

    Smartphone ideal as driving GPS?

    How about having a screen that is of an actually useful size for the dashboard? If you ever tried driving in New Jersey, you'd realize how important having a visible map is (more important than getting spoken directions)... and that doesn't really work very well on a 3" screen, unless you want to squint at a tiny glossy screen while driving.

    A smartphone will work in a pinch... but I would much rather have a dedicated GPS.

  • by shaper ( 88544 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:11AM (#28637029) Homepage
    The article (and a lot of comments I have read so far) are only talking about casual navigation GPS, as in vehicle GPS units. The current crop of phone GPS solutions is inadequate for backpacking, camping, exploring or basically any outdoor activity that takes you very far away from a cell tower or a charging station.

    Most non-dedicated GPS units do not have a compass (the new iPhone 3GS is a notable exception).

    Most non-dedicated GPS units have pretty wretched sensitivity and accuracy compared to dedicated GPS units, especially in rough terrain or heavy tree cover. Anybody who does much geocaching will know this. It's no big deal while driving, but it can be very annoying to take the time to claw your way up a steep hillside only to realize you are 100 feet away from where you want to be, on the other side of a deep ravine. Even with driving, inaccuracy can be annoying, which is why TomTom includes another dedicated (more accurate) GPS in the vehicle mount for the new iPhone.

    Most phones do not use standard AA or AAA batteries, making it more difficult and expensive to carry spares out away from electrical connections.

    Some (most?) phone-based GPS solutions do not even install maps locally on the device, instead relying on cellular communications to download maps live, making them totally useless outside of cell coverage. AT&T's recently announced product for the iPhone is one example.

    Rain (or anything else that might get the unit wet). There are many dedicated GPS units available that have various levels of water resistance.
  • Optimized is best (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:11AM (#28637035)

    I want a phone that's optimized to be a phone

    I want a GPS that's optimized to be a GPS

    Combo devices require compromise

    Like they say about a duck

    It doesn't walk well, swim well or fly well, but it walks, swims and flies.

  • Re:I'm one of them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Firehunter ( 1202888 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:15AM (#28637109) [] Verizon unlocked the Storm's GPS about 5 months ago. Google maps on my storm has no problem using a true GPS signal neither does the camera for Geotagging.
  • by MikeURL ( 890801 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:18AM (#28637167) Journal
    For $150 bux I think the Nuvi 360 was one of the best buys I ever made. For me it has opened up more interest for me to geolocate things in Google Earth and then go find them. I've also become interested in geocaching.

    But really the best part is NOT having to print out maps and hope/pray I don't make a wrong turn. With the Nuvi I just put in the address and start driving. If I make a wrong turn it recalculates a new route on the fly so I don't have to wander around in circles. For me a car without GPS now feels naked. I can't speak to how well the smartphones work in this area because I don't have one. I do know that smartphones are much more expensive than the one time fee of buying something like a Nuvi.

    I suppose another ancillary benefit is that I'm more willing to travel. Just this last weekend I went up to Niagara Falls--it was a really fun trip. And the truth is I'm not so sure I would have done that if I had to worry about printing maps and praying I didn't make a wrong turn in the woods of upstate NY. I was also impressed with the robustness of the "detour" feature because there were several road projects going on so I had a chance to use that feature twice.
  • by rrossman2 ( 844318 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:26AM (#28637287)
    There's a big issue that's missed here... I have verizon and live in central PA (State College area). When you head out from town, cell coverage is next to non-existent. It's very hit and miss, you can send a text out in some spots, but not make or receive a call.

    I've tried using the VZW Navigator app during the free trial on my BB Storm. I've tried using the garmin app for BB's free trial, and I've used Google Maps.

    Garmin's app for the BB has the best feel overall, and can be integrated with Panoramio, which is neat. Google's works for finding places or people (Latitude), but doesn't do voice prompts. VZW Nav just looks like a cheap nav app and for the $10 a month, you'd be better off purchasing the Garmin app for $100.

    Now here's the big issue... the BB GPS chip works apparently by talking to the cell tower. I've tried turning the feature to enhance the GPS location off, and things like Geotagging my photos won't work when I have little to no cell service, even if the GPS signal is strong. I purchased a cheap $30 16 channel Bluetooth GPS receiver, and when it's paired the GPS feature works with full or no cell service. I'm not sure how many other phones have this happen, and I'm not sure if there's a work around for the BB Storm, but from what I've seen the stand alone GPS units are still the way to go ($200 garmin) as some also work as a hands free device for those states that require that. But if I did have to use a GPS program on a cell phone, the phone better have a large screen, such as the Storm, and have a well laid-out and clean UI such as the Garmin app.. Nothing like the VZW Nav interface.

  • by StCredZero ( 169093 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:27AM (#28637289)
    • 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.

    Thanks for the feature list! A waterproof case like they have for cameras with a capacitative touch-though membrane would do it for the iPhone, though it would have some trouble with sunlight. However, there is an exotic device called a *shade* that solves this. Also, with the new hardware interface features of iPhone OS 3, you can interface with the autohelm. Elevation maps -- that's just a software feature.

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

    Hmm, and you thought your feature list was some sort of insurmountable barrier? Extrapolate much?

  • by schon ( 31600 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:34AM (#28637377)

    In china, India and other countries motorcycles and scooters outnumber cars 20 to 1.

    And as we all know, motorcycle and scooter riders in China and India are the #1 people who purchase GPS units, right?

    Or are you one of those that ignore the rest of the planet as a figment of someone else's imagination?

    No, I'm the type of guy who ignores irrelevant information in the context of a specific discussion.

    But if the only way you can make yourself feel good is to nitpick someone's post because you don't want to admit they're right, then you go right ahead.

  • by grahamsz ( 150076 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @11:58AM (#28637725) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, i find hiking with the onscreen topo maps to be a futile exercise.

    However GPS is great for getting a map reference to see exactly where you are. I had to triangulate off mountain tops last year and it took an awful lot more effort than i was expecting.

    I also like to set markers at points that i've found water (particularly if many streams on the map have dried up). It's also nice to have a log afterwards of where I was at which time - i can then correlate that with my camera datestamps and geolocate my photos.

  • by 644bd346996 ( 1012333 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @12:20PM (#28637979)

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

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

    Google Maps' terrain feature doesn't include anywhere near enough data to be useful for even day hiking. You can't zoom in far enough (the best you can get is 40 foot contour intervals), it doesn't include trails or the smaller streams that are key water sources on multi-day backpacking treks, and you can't pre-download the maps to your smartphone so that you can use them once you get out of range of the network. Besides, as others have said, the battery life of a smartphone (especially one that has to download maps on the fly) isn't anywhere close to what a handheld hiking-oriented GPS receiver can get. Nor can they work as well under tree cover, because the antennas are far smaller than what standalone GPS units have. A smartphone is only good for casual road navigation. For any off-road use, or even serious on-road use, it is a mere toy.

  • by schon ( 31600 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @12:20PM (#28637981)

    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.

    As the GPS doesn't actually drive the vehicle, this seems like a non-issue to me.

    If someone is stupid enough to be watching the GPS instead of the road and other vehicles around them, the best GPS in the world won't prevent the accident that will inevitably follow. (And yes, it actually [] happens [])

  • by klausboop ( 322537 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @12:28PM (#28638079)

    Also, a GPS unit is relatively durable, so if I bought one last year, I have no need to buy one again this year. Combine these two, and it's easy to see a significant decline in sales, even without considering smart phones.

    This. Beyond durability, they are more upgradable than ever. I bought a GPS unit that, in addition to purely fun stuff like customizing the voice and changing the car graphics, has upgradeable maps, all of this via USB. A family member recently ditched their old, non-upgradeable GPS unit for the same style that I have because the map in their old GPS was so out of date it was unusable. While they will have to buy new maps from time to time, it is unlikely that they will buy new hardware for a LONG time.

    The release of firmware- and map-upgradeable hardware at a price within reach of average consumers is a fairly recent that may even coincide with the this dip in hardware sales. Let's see how TomTom and Garmin's map update subscriptions are doing too, to get a full picture.

  • by Buelldozer ( 713671 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @12:31PM (#28638125)

    "Buy a case"

    Okay, then how do I do things like drop waypoints on an Iphone once I've stuffed it into a waterproof, dustproof, and vibration resistant case so I can mount it to the handlebars on my ATV? You know, since you can no longer TOUCH THE SCREEN.

    "Log into google maps and use the elevations maps feature"

    What if I'm out of range of the nearest cell tower? That is pretty easy to do in large swaths of the United States. Antelope don't need cell service so no one builds towers out in the mountains. Other places you CANNOT build towers, Yellowstone National Park is one good example.

    "put them in Aeroplane mode and use the GPS chip as normal"

    No. As has been mentioned by hardware and software designers in this topic the GPS chips in most smartphones, including the iphone, don't update fast enough nor have enough intrinsic accuracy for for high speed (55MPH) applications or for applications where high accuracy is steering a boat.

    "Only a fool..."

    I remain unconvinced that in car navigation is the primary use for GPS. I know far too many sportsman and outdoor enthusiasts who own a dedicated outdoor GPS but NO in car Sat-Nav for me to easily accept this without proof.

    A smartphone is a terrible replacement for dedicated GPS hardware in any application BUT in car navigation.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @01:10PM (#28638693) Homepage

    The lack of a an "autohelm" interface is probably the most difficult to correct issue that the GP mentions, since that would require an outside hardware manufacturer to make it work.

    If you really need features like autohelm or a truly ruggedized unit, no amount of cases, upgrades, and what have you are going to make the iPhone a suitable replacement.

    At some point, a specialized device is far better at what it does than trying to make the iPhone do things it's not really built for. If you want a marine autopilot/GPS combo, buy something which is built for the task -- the stakes are way too high.

    Now, for many people, a smartphone might be good enough most of the time. But, I just don't see dedicated devices going away any time soon.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 09, 2009 @03:45PM (#28641167)

    I know a few people that have had their windows broken and their non-integrated GPSs stolen from their hiding spots. The criminal sees the empty brackets suction-cupped to the windshield (sometimes even the suction marks themselves if they also hide their bracket) so it is obvious to them that they are hiding a GPS unit somewhere in their car. And, who wants to have to hide and take out their GPS whenever they get in or out of their car, it's a PITA?

    I wish more car companies would put factory integrated GPS units in their cars for a reasonable price. It should add a few hundred dollars to the price of the car, not a few thousand. They don't even need to integrate the radio and the climate control through it.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling