GPS navigation has to earn mass market status

GPS navigation has to earn mass market status

Despite exponential growth in the last decade, there is still significant untapped potential in the consumer GPS market.

In fact, local pioneer Navman says market penetration of in-car navigation in New Zealand is only two to three percent.

The worldwide GPS market is tipped to be worth more than US$30 billion (NZ$47 billion) by the end of the year, with US-based market intelligence firm iSuppli forecasting all types of automotive navigation units to reach 65.1 million by 2012.

The US is leading the way according to a 2007 study showing one in six adults owned or used a GPS device, with portable in-car devices comprising about a third of these, handheld units another third and about a quarter GPS-enabled PDAs or notebooks.

However, even in the US the proportion of personal navigation devices sold against the number of vehicles on the road reportedly remains in the single figures.

It seems inevitable that navigation will become electronic rather than paper-based, as is the case with other media, but will this be because map makers want to kill fewer trees, or will vendors truly earn the mass market tag? To go mainstream, even for cellphones and other converged devices which include GPS, there are a number of roadblocks to swerve.

First, the plethora of features that can now be found in navigation units are a double-edged sword.

Media players, FM transmitters, cameras and other entertainment additions attract some, but deter those who just want the basics. Even the more practical functionality, like the location of the closest petrol station, safety manuals, routes to save fuel etc. can be a distraction when you simply want to focus on getting from A to B.

Also, hot demand for customisation, online content and sophisticated features sets a cracking development pace. Like other products in a phase of rapid maturity, the speed of development can dishearten consumers who find their device is out of date by virtue of a feature added a month after they bought it.

Navman says early adopters of the technology are older than those of other consumer electronics, because of the comparatively higher price for GPS, and because buyers are trying to take the stress out of driving.

For an out-of-towner with no idea where they’re going, there’s an obvious advantage. Though, a lazy local who has tried to change their destination or a setting on their device in rush hour without straying into another lane or rear-ending the car in front, knows there is potential for stress to be added rather than taken away.

Despite improvement in portability of both units and their mounts, theft of in-car devices is rife.

Affordability is of course increasing as the technology matures, and as chip prices continue to fall, adoption rates will keep on rising.

Stand-alone devices here are generally reaching at least their fourth generation, but mobile phone giants are also weighing into the market share war.

These converged offerings also have hurdles to jump to satisfy consumers. A cellphone with built-in GPS may suit a pedestrian, but some motorists find their screens too small for in-car use.

With new devices offering to assist consumers navigate, there could be fresh confusion over which type is best.

So with devices becoming converged, better looking and more fully featured, there’s boundless potential for the category and inevitable growth, but to maintain this momentum there are still issues to be ironed out.

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