I went to the demonstrations of the latest satellite navigation system from TomTom, and guess what - there's very little new to speak of in any of the devices. Yes, some of them have a wider screen than before and indeed I agree the new mounts for the dashboard are more elegant than the crane-like apparatus that one used to have to use. But they're satnavs. You tell them where to go and they guide you there.

There's a community online to which you can submit amendments and corrections to maps. There are accessories. There are premium versions with US maps (remember I'm in the UK so British/European is standard for me).

They're still just satnavs, though, and it's difficult to see where they can go in product terms from here. TomTom, who I saw today, and Garmin, and all the others, will I believe end up in trouble over this - once something is commoditised it becomes much more difficult to sustain a business on the strength of it. It's not impossible but you have to make it extraordinary; an iPod is arguably a commodity now whereas it used to be a luxury, high-end product, but that doesn't matter because Apple's brilliance at marketing has made the thing so damned desirable they're selling in sufficient numbers to make money on the slenderest of margins. It's difficult to imagine anyone pulling off the same trick with a satnav.

My best guess is that the satnav companies will come to realise this. The markets will become saturated and as long as their satnavs are working people won't buy replacements. The answer in marketing terms is simple; you start a subscription model instead of giving away the maps at the point of purchase.

This will go down very badly of course. People will resist it and hate it with a passion. But how else are the satnav companies going to make money in the longer term?

About the Author

Author, 'This Is Social Media' (Capstone Publishing 2009); freelance journalist in the UK for the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent and others.

jbennet 1,618

most are trying to become phones/pdas/media players now

I actually have one of those things, courtesy of my employer.
The Samsung i780 works like a charm.
Only gripes are the short battery life when using the GPS unit (which a car charger alleviates, it will keep the unit fully charged at all times), and the poor GPS signal reception indoors (unless you're pointing the thing out an open door or window you have no reception when more than a few centimeters away from a window and forget getting reception through metal-coated blinds).

But in the car it works very well indeed. Initial signal aqcuisition can take a few minutes (usually under 2 when not parked in a parking garage, see above), after that it's stable (I've not tried it in between tall buildings, might cause reception trouble).

Highly recommended at about €500 + the price of the Garmin software (out of the box the phone comes with a trial version) if you want an all-in-one device.
Great as a PDA, effective as a phone and satnav unit, excellent sound for use as a music/video player, cheaper than buying a Blackberry, an iPaq, an iPod touch, and a TomTom.