October 4, 2006

Editorial: 11 things I would do if I were Garmin

I thought I would write down a few of the things that have been nagging at me about how to improve Garmin and make it better. This isn’t a rant or a flame on the company; it’s just that I love seeing GPS’s adopted and used by new people. I think that some of these ideas can help with the adoption of the products and the quality of what Garmin offers to the marketplace. If you have some ideas, I’d love to hear them; leave a comment. If you think I am being unfair, hold on, the TomTom list is coming tomorrow. Here we go:

1. SiRF star III the whole line – The top of the Garmin automotive line doesn’t have SiRF star III chipsets in it. That needs to change. Garmin has the broadest and potentially the best line around, and it needs the best technology. The StreetPilot C300’s, 2700 and 2820’s are powered by last generation’s chipset technology.
2. Launch a value-oriented product (or product line) to better compete with the new products coming out from [insert most second and third tier electronics companies here]. This would replace the C320, C330 and maybe even the C340 products. Garmin has the scale to drive engineering and manufacturing costs down. They’ll need to take the long-term point of view and recognize that some margin erosion now at the value end is better than long-term share of market erosion forever. This value proposition needs to include the SiRF star III chipset, just like everyone else, and I would recommend a flat nuvi-like form factor.
3. Drive the Nuvi form factor (or similar) across the line. Flat GPS units aren’t just for globe trotting execs anymore. I love the Nuvi 660 so far, and the Mio C310 was beautiful to handle. The user experience is incredibly better with a slim product. I want a flat value proposition, and a flat everything else.
4. Create a relationship away from the GPS (Part a) – Do “Garmin HOME”. Yes, TomTom got it right, and the Garmin Web updater is close, but make this a central place for real-time upgrades, pre-trip planning, media hubbing and more. Integrate it with iTunes and while we are at it make it Mac compatible.
5. Create a relationship away from the GPS (part b) – Do “Garmin PLUS”. Yea, ditto from above. The PLUS system is a way to establish a link with the consumer on a daily basis. The PLUS services are something that can set-up a “must-have” situation for consumers such that they will never leave your brand. Ten years ago, who would have thought that the On-Star system from General Motors would have ever stayed around? “An expensive way to unlock my car when I lock my keys in it? Huh?” Wow, look at them now, offering voice prompted turn-by-turn directions facilitated by the on-board GPS and a way to call the police to your location in case of an emergency. Do you think that a PLUS service will stop with a weather forecast and traffic? What happens when mobile wireless speeds rival wired internet speeds and guess what you have? A PLUS service that offers anything you want.
6. Instant Map Updates – You can do this through Garmin Updater for now, but do it through my Garmin PLUS service too. I’d love to see incremental updates on a regular basis that isn’t too intrusive (I am sure there’s a balance to be struck here), but roads change daily, and map providers get new information daily. The GPS industry needs to make this a continuous change process, not a once per year batch process.
7. Consumer feedback on Routing – Give me a way to either teach the GPS or have it learn from what I want or don’t want. “I don’t want to route through the crime ridden neighborhood”, “I like this particular shortcut”, and “That last route you sent me on was great!”
8. Buy Dash – the recent announcement by Dash said that they planned on networking GPS units so that they could work together in a network effect to disseminate data on traffic flow on the roads. The issue is that they may not get the scale they need to get the network effect. Garmin can do that with their might; so buy them.

Handheld GPS Systems
1. Clean up the line a.k.a “Kill the old eTrex line” – In my opinion, there are a few things that hold the GPS units back from providing the desired consumer experience, and that’s being driven by a few things that are left over from the legacy handheld line. There may be a place for a monochrome as the value product in the eTrex, but all handhelds need: SiRF star III chipsets, USB connections for faster downloads, mapping capabilities, and a micro-SD card slot. The entry-level product can be monochrome, but the legacy line of the eTrex models are killing people’s impressions of what handhelds can do for them. Mediocre experience = mediocre fans of GPS units.
2. Facilitate Networking of Data – I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to “Beam” routes to others with handheld GPS units. Must be left over from my Palm PDA experiences, but when I show up to a group and everyone else is holding an eTrex, I want to be able to share the route we’re going on. If the micro-SD card slot in every handheld can do that, great!
3. Keep Improving the MapSource Product for Handhelds – Overall, Garmin has constantly improved the Mapsource products, recently offering the ability to export to Google Earth; nice. Keep going.

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Posted by Scott Martin at October 4, 2006 8:01 AM

Recent Comments

Garmin needs to update the Forerunner 305 to a model that's more waterproof for triathletes. I've heard many a horror story about flooded units when used for swimming. Triathlon is a fast growing sport and the unit would be perfect except one needs to be able to take it into the ocean and have it survive.

Posted by: Jonno at October 28, 2006 6:36 PM

Garmin needs to update the Forerunner 305 to a model that's more waterproof for triathletes. I've heard many a horror story about flooded units when used for swimming. Triathlon is a fast growing sport and the unit would be perfect except one needs to be able to take it into the ocean and have it survive.

Posted by: Jonno at October 28, 2006 6:35 PM

As armchair product manager and experienced GPS dude, I agree with most of that list. Here's some additional yelling at the screen and referenced by original number above.

1) Sirfstar the whole product line. The handheld product line is a mess - easily half the salespeople in the world assume that "x" means "Sirf" when in reality Legend Cx, Vista Cx, and Summit Cx still have the old receiver logic that performs badly. The market confusion of similarly named products is immense - Vista C shared little more than an injection mold with Vista and the difference between Vista C and Vista Cx is a subset of the difference between a 60C and a 60Cx.

2) Market leaders don't _have_ to compete on price, but they should probably have a unit ready to manufacture sitting on the design boards in case that low end heats up much more.

3) I think I'll disagree with you a little on this one. Nuvi is great in a businessman's vest pocket or a real-estate agent's purse. I don't mind giving up space on the dashboard for a larger screen, more powerful (multipoint route optimizing, etc.) unit and I definitely don't want Nuvi in the woods. If there's one thing Garmin's done really well - perhaps too well - it's specializing products for niches.

6) There's definitely an increasing demand for this. You can see some cracking of the process in the recent collapse of the City Select/City Navigator lines. For the US, they replaced CS, CN/320, CN, and CN/NT with two products CN and CN NT. For CN/NT the available date and the ship date were five months apart and the market has figured out that means that *at best* you're looking at 2005 data from Navteq for a product that's shipping just weeks before calendar 4Q. There was massive confusion when CS7 disappeared from the market before CN8 was available. Garmin really needs to figure out how to slipstream that release process more.

H1) As expensive as it was for me to develop USB support for the new Garmins in GPSBabel, it's been *way* more expensive to support the horrible USB/Serial adapters (hint: it's increasingly impossible to buy a computer with a serial port) on these products. Comparing a 2001-era product like the original mono Etrex lines against entry-level units in the same price range like the x210 is pretty embarrassing. These units can't disappear from the market soon enough. If that means adding a serial connection to a low end C series member just to keep the NMEA crowd (PDA, Marine, etc.) happy, that's fine. Serial must die.

H2) In the mid 2000's, that is spelled "BlueTooth". I want to be able to beam points to other handheld users and I want to synchronize my handheld and dashtops on the fly. The MicroSD sockets are totally not the way to handle that.

Posted by: Robert Lipe at October 4, 2006 1:03 PM
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