Converging markets: Cell Phone and Sat Nav

Consumers hanker after cool gadgets and the market is eager to supply them. When a product starts to look redundant, alarm bells ring and the manufacturers scramble to innovate and show us new ways to make their offerings indispensible again.

Stacks of full-frontal touchscreen mobiles now come with a GPS receiver and an internal compass. With products like Google Maps Navigation bringing your mobile all the functionality of a sat nav, for free, will this be the end for stand-alone GPS sales? How will the sat nav empire strike back?

For years we’ve all been told the latest phone will do away with the need to carry other kit around. But circumstances prevented true convergence. Dedicated music players have stayed ahead through storage capacity, plus the market fact consumers won’t pay for downloading tracks to their phones. Low-end digital cameras have the resolution of high-end phones, then you can scale up the lens and zoom. Sat nav systems have traditionally led with larger screens, faster processors and built-in GPS receivers. With these three advantages nullified by many current mobiles, sat navs might now be the first piece of tech we can truly do without.

In-Stat (a market research company focusing on the mobile internet), report the GPS tech market to be in a mature state and forecast sharply decreasing sales of sat nav devices for 2010. Mobile phones have the advantage because anything sold solely for the dashboard of a vehicle must focus the driver’s attention on the road ahead. Traffic news and accident information would be acceptable, but imagine the distraction of facebook or YouTube. There’s a lesson here for mobile apps. In driving mode, other applications should be disabled. Is this an advantage for the single-tasking iPhone at last?

The GPS giants, Garmin and Tom Tom will move to innovate, or they might bring their branding power more directly into the mobile industry and launch (more) phones themselves.

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