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Monday, December 31, 2007

Garmin NOT Keeping Up with the Car GPS Competition

When it comes to car navigation systems, Garmin was always the name at the top of the list. They were never the cheapest, but they had the best accuracy, were feature-rich, and innovative.

But if their new offerings are any example, Garmin has not faced reality; as Car GPS units have increased in popularity and fallen in price, it has real competition now.

Garmin is not oblivious and has come out with the bargain priced 200 series. Good solid navigation with no frills. It's like buying the bottom of the line Mercedes just to say "I have a Mercedes". But these units are no bargain if you go up a few hundred dollars to the competition's top of the line units.

It used to be you had to double or triple your budget to get a top of the line car navigation system. No more, except with Garmin, who mercilessly makes sure that authorized dealers sell at Garmin's price, or they're not authorized anymore. Garmin strictly enforces MAP pricing...something that should be against the law but amazingly isn't.

Lets look at the top of the line units from Garmin, Tom Tom, Magellan, Navigon, and the supposedly soon to be released, Dash Navigation Express.

Tom Tom is the largest auto GPS manufacturer in the world. They are #1 in Europe and very popular in the US.

Navigon is also very big in Europe and are new to the US Market. There have been some user complaints about Navigon's US maps and routing algorithms. Navagon executives in the US privately complain that Navigon programmers are concentrating most of their efforts on European units and spending little time on their US counterparts. Navigon is new to the US and they'll eventually work that out if they want to stay here.

Magellan is a known name here while Dash Navigation's Dash Express, the most revolutionary GPS compared, is projected to hit the market in February, 2008.

If we're going to talk about value to price, lets start by taking a look at the prices:

Garmin nuvi 770: $964.27 manufacturers "suggested" price
Tom Tom 920 T: $599.00 list price after mfg rebate
Magellan Maestro 4250: big box store priced at $449.99
Navagon 7100: big box store priced at $$499.99 to $599.99
Dash Express: $599.00 projected

Wow, that Garmin nuvi 770 must do EVERYTHING to command such a high price!

Well, lets talk about what it DOESN'T do.

It DOESN'T let you input addresses by voice like the Tom Tom 920 T.

It DOESN'T let you make on-the-fly corrections to your map and then upload them to Tom Tom....where you can then download everyone else's map corrections as well.

The Garmin DOESN'T have voice control, which lets you operate the Magellan 4250 without taking your hands off the steering wheel. And the Magellan has SiRFstarIII, the most advanced GPS chip-set available today. Garmin's claim to fame was always it's accuracy, but Magellan is at least matching, if not surpassing Garmin in accuracy now.

Garmin DOESN'T have that the Free Lifetime Traffic Reports that work right out of the box like the Navigon 7100. In fairness, neither do the others, but the nuvi 770 is $350 to $450 higher than the Navigon....throwing in free traffic is the LEAST Garmin could do.

The Nuvi 770 also DOESN'T have what Navigon calls Reality View™ which provides photo-realistic 3D images of complex interchanges — with actual road sign text — so you get the extra guidance you need when you need it most.

I almost hesitate in bringing the Dash Express into the picture because it has no real-world track record, but it's so revolutionary (if it works...and it does in the demo videos and according to the beta testers) I really can't leave it out.

Garmin DOESN"T let you select your route based on up-to-the-minute traffic data that is automatically and anonymously exchanged via the most reliable source–other Dash devices. If you're going from point X to point Y and you leave at 2am, rush hour, or during a 12 car pile-up on your preferred route, Garmin will tell give you an identical estimated time of arrival, later adjusting for speed.

Garmin also DOESN'T allow you to transmit route, address and other data from your computer to your phone as you drive. If you're a salesperson on the road and the office wants you to take a side-trip to a new customer, the office can transmit the address directly to your Dash Express.

Garmin DOESN'T have both WiFi and cellular connectivity like the Dash Express.

Garmin DOESN'T automatically update your maps and software on the fly like Dash.

There's more Garmin's top-of-the-line DOESN'T that it's competitors do, but enough has been listed to make the point.

There are also a lot of features like blue tooth, 4.3" screens, and POI's that Garmin shares with it's competitors. So what does the Garmin nuvi 770 HAVE that they feel justifies its high price?

According to Garmin, "Many “must have” entertainment and travel tools including MP3 player, audio book player (subscription to required), JPEG picture viewer, currency converters and more."

There's also an optional MSN Direct service but Garmin doesn't go into a lot of details on what it does. They certainly don't hype the advantages like Dash does with their Yahoo service.

And of course you have to wait a year for new "updated" maps with Garmin.

YAWN! None of those features are "must have" for me or anyone else with a good SmartPhone or an iPod.

I want the most accurate, sophisticated and easy to use GPS that will get me to where I want to go, the best possible way, in the quickest amount of time. I want maps that aren't obsolete as soon as I install them. I want to be directed and be able to direct the GPS by voice as much as possible. I want features directly linked to car navigation: the more the better, if they work. I'm concerned about my driving experience, not some one's newest novel or how much my Garmin costs in Euros.

And as a current Garmin nivi 360 owner, I'd like a hands-free system that doesn't have to be re-synced with my cell phone every other time I try and use it.

The multiple waypoint feature in the nuvi 770 is nice...I would pay for that but NOT $400 more.

Garmin's other advantage (Dash says it's irrelevant again there Yahoo POI system) is that it has a huge user base which, with Garmin's encouragement and assistance, has come up with millions of extra POI's and other software very easily.

Some of the other manufacturers have user groups trying to do the same thing, but without the type of support Garmin gives, it's complicated and the offerings paltry compared to Garmin users.

It reminds me of Palm, and how 3rd party applications and an open platform not only caused the Palm to be THE name in PDA's early on, but kept it alive when it's competitors started putting out really superior units.

For me, that's where the similarity ends. I don't think that being able to download the locations of all Star Bucks locations in the US or even the locations of thousands of Red Light cameras is going to overcome it's current liabilities.

I've owned Garmin GPS's for at least 10 years and I am very disappointed to their response to the competition. The only thing Garmin seems unique at this year is having the traffic receiver/antenna integrated into the power cord. With all the others (except the elusive Dash Express) you need to string a wire with two suction cups attached to the window for traffic updates.....why not just tell a thief "top-line GPS in this car.

The Garmin Lock feature is also an excellent feature. When activated, you must enter a pin # or drive the vehicle to a predetermined location to unlock the nuvi. If someone does steal your nuvi, they won't be able to get to your home address, phone #, or any of the other information or features of the GPS. They won't even be able to use it. But does that justify a $925 retail price? I don't think so.

When the new Garmin maps come out in August/September 2008, I'm going to have a decision to make: spend the money on new maps for my nuvi 360 with the 2.3" screen and a lot of features I never use.......or buy a new top of the line model from one of Garmin's competitors. Even now, the answer seems pretty obvious. After the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show next week, it will probably be a certainty.

I'm going to miss Garmin, but I'm going to enjoy the extra features......and the extra cash in my pocket. Wake Up, Garmin! Your complacency and arrogance will destroy you. And that's a sad ending for such a great company.

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Mrs. Unloadingzone

Mrs. Unloadingzone
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