Vamshidhar Kommineni

October 8, 2006

Crossing the Chasm #1: Automotive navigation systems

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vamshi @ 1:59 am

See my earlier post on why the title "Crossing the Chasm"

One of the gadgets dear to my heart and one that has really made my life a lot easier is the automotive GPS device. I have the navigational and directional sense of a blind lemming. It didn’t hurt much when I lived in Champaign (you go 4 miles in any direction and hit cornfields, so you couldn’t be too lost at any given time), but moving to Seattle in late 2003 and getting lost many times the first month in the company rental car certainly underscored the need for something better.

At the time navigation systems were just beginning to become popular in Europe and the UK, but were mostly non-existent or non-functional in the US. Around this time Honda integrated a gem of a navigation system (sourced from Alpine, if I remember correctly) in their new model Accords and Acuras. Luckily, the Acura TSX was right down the alley of what I was looking for in a new car, and the nav system made it that much more appealing. At the time, most people who saw my car thought the nav system was pretty cool, though very pricey (it was a $2000 option on the car). For me, it was worth every penny, and I still can’t get around parts of Seattle without it. Also makes life very easy when I drive up to Vancouver or down to Portland.

Enough rambling about me though. Since 2003, nav systems have certainly become very mainstream particularly in the last year or so. Every entry level luxury car (Acura, Lexus, BMW, Audi, etc.) provides them as an option as do the mainstream American sedans (Toyota, Honda, etc.). The other reason for the market penetration is due to some great, user friendly after-market products from Tom Tom and Garmin. Another thing that seems to have made quite a difference in the after-market/handheld GPS devices is the SirfStar III chipset that apparently is much faster to satellite lock and much better at holding the signal in city environments (I haven’t had the chance to play with one of these devices yet). Now it seems like everyone is scrambling to release GPS based navigation systems and prices have dropped to the ~$350 range for the devices with smaller screens

Over the next 3-5 years, I see these devices becoming very common in the American market. Optimistically, every car you buy in the future will have them as a low priced option. People will start to see the advantages of this just as Mapquest and the others revolutionized directions. Online maps and directions, while a quantum leap over book based maps, are still pretty deficient (have you ever tried to flip through directions while going 40mph down a high traffic street or tried to take down directions when you dont’ have a printer?), and I do believe that nav systems put them to shame. It’s just taken a lot longer for the adoption because of the cost of entry relative to the basically free online maps.

Incidentally, Microsoft has an interesting stake in this market, since quite a few of the nav system devices run on the Windows CE operating system, and they have a pretty big push into the automotive PC market in general.

Just to give you a flavor on the range of devices available, here are a few that I’ve noticed (my personal favorite is the first one, the Garmin Nuvi) on Engadget over the last few weeks alone (clicking the image takes you to the GPS.Engadget article on them):

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