NAVIGON stops PND business in North America

After a few days of rumors about NAVIGON withdrawal from the North American market, NAVIGON’s CEO Egon Minar spoke this morning to GPS Business News: “Due to the difficult economic environment and the aggressive pricing we have decided to withdraw from the PND business in North America for the time being. We are however not closing down our Chicago office which will continue to serve our automotive and mobile phone businesses in North America.”

Egon Minar did not detail how many people are affected by this downsize, but it is a “significant number of people in our Chicago office”, he said. Only a few people will remain to take care of the existing PND customers: “we will continue to fulfill all obligations to our existing PND customers in terms of map update, etc.”, he added.

NAVIGON launched its first products on the North American market in September 2007. During the first quarter of 2008 the German company reached the fourth position on the US market with a share of 7.7%. To reach this share so quickly NAVIGON invested in advertising and was the first to introduce a lifetime traffic service bundled into the price of its product. The German company also had a local product team to localize its software to North American tastes.

It seems the NAVIGON presence on the U.S. market was sustainable as far as the A brands maintained a certain level of premium price. But with products such as the TomTom ONE selling at $99 during the last Christmas season and beyond, there was not much opportunity left to NAVIGON despite the good quality of their products.

Despite this downsize NAVIGON expects to increase its business in its mobile division in North America. Most recently the German company signed a deal with T-Mobile (in Germany) to equip many Smartphones with its onboard navigation software (read here; Egon Minar is now looking at extending this deal in North America. However, this might be a real challenge since European players (Wayfinder, Telmap) have had so far little success on the market. The Apple App store could be an opportunity, but here again price competition is likely to be fierce.

Important market concentration

A few weeks only after Mio decided a significant downsizing of its workforce in the US, this is another mid size PND manufacturer to be hit by the aggressive pricing policies currently taking place on the North American market. What is good news for market leaders Garmin and TomTom is certainly bad news for the rest of the value chain. This is the case for retailers which have now little options left when it comes to lining up PNDs on their shelves.

Japanese NAVITIME launches satnav service in APAC

NAVITIME, a Japanese mobile in-car and pedestrian navigation provider is launching its services in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Together with the U.S. and European areas, NAVITIME is now available in twenty three countries worldwide. The service will be provided as a 4 weeks subscription costing $4.99 for Australia and $4.99 for Singapore and Malaysia combined. A free four-week trial is also available.

NAVITIME’s multimodal system gives the fastest and most practical travel route using a combination of walking, driving, and public transportation. In the Asia Pacific region subway routes are available for the cities of Sydney and Singapore and local train routes for Sydney, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

NAVITIME application now supports total of forty three devices, recently adding NOKIA 5800 Xpress Music and BlackBerry 8900 (Curve) and other Symbian, Blackberry and Windows Mobile Smartphones.

NAVITIME initially launched its service in 1998 in Japan where the company currently has over 2 million monthly subscribers. The global expansion started last year in the United States and more recently in Europe. But to date the company is crucially lacking partnerships with wireless operators and handset manufacturers outside of Japan.

TomTom upgrades entry level PND range

TomTom today announced an upgrade to its entry level range of Personal Navigation Devices with the introduction of two new models: TomTom ONE IQ Routes and TomTom XL IQ Routes, respectively priced at €159 and €199 in Europe. Rather than a replacement, these two devices come as an addition to the existing TomTom ONE and TomTom XL which prices are expected to decrease from €20 to €30.

With large inventories still remaining from the Fourth quarter 2008, especially in the United States, TomTom couldn’t replace the existing entry level products now. Therefore it choose to create this “IQ Route Edition” which comes with a slightly different look (a black casing and gray strip is circling the screen) and improved software features which were so far found only in more pricey devices: IQ Routes (historical traffic integrated in the routing algorithm) and lane guidance (see picture).

In Europe these devices will also be available with a 42 countries map license.

Low cost, connected PND in the making?

With these new products TomTom is only doing a minor adjustment in its range. However, we can expect more to come before the summer. Indeed, TomTom set up the goal to sell 1 million connected PNDs before the end of the year. Not surprisingly in this economic downturn, it appears from investigation made by GPS Business News, that its high price connected PNDs are not selling very well. To make this one million target, or at least getting close to it, TomTom will have – sooner than later – to ship a low cost connected PND or a bundle with a power cord integrating this wireless connectivity. This will surely happen before the summer vacations period.

TomTom and Renault detail their sub €500 navigation system

In an online chat with the French press today, TomTom and Renault have unveiled more details about their common low-cost in-dash navigation system: Renault Carminat TomTom.

This navigation solution completely integrated into the dashboard will feature a non touch 5.8 inch display activated by a central command or a remote control (depending on the vehicle). Unlike what many might have expected, this navigation device will not be connected in real-time. All online services will be available through a SD card and a computer software called Renault TomTom Home, the equivalent of the existing TomTom Home. Traffic information will be downloaded via RDS-TMC, where this service is available.

The first car to offer this navigation system will be the new Clio to be launched at the forthcoming Geneva Motor Show. Then, the solution will be offered in Megane car models and other Renault cars moving forward. The navigation system will be offered as an option across Europe, Turkey and South Africa.

Ford innovates with hybrid phone/in-dash navigation system

Ford Europe will be launching in March 2009 an innovative solution which combines a mobile phone and an in-dash navigation solution. This factory-fitted system called “FordMobile Navigation” comprises a GPS and a Bluetooth kit in the dashboard that connects to the driver’s mobile phone where the navigation software is running and the map data is stored, thanks to a 2GB memory card.

The destination is set on the phone, the voice guidance is given by the car audio (from Sony) and turn by turn icons are displayed on the dashboard screen (see picture) as well as street names, distance to next maneuver and estimated time of arrival. The navigation software uses both the GPS and speed data from the car to enable a quick start and a precise navigation.

If the phone has an integrated GPS, the fully fledged navigation software can be used outside of the car, for pedestrian navigation, cycling or in another car like a normal mobile navigation solution.

This system will be offered as an option to Ford Focus, C-Max, Kuga, Mondeo, S-Max and Galaxy vehicles across western Europe starting in March 2009 and retailing at €200. The mobile software is compatible with a range of Nokia phones and will be extended to some Samsung and LG devices in the near future. The map data is from NAVTEQ and comprises 21 European countries.

Ford’s public relations were not able to confirm the name of the software partner at this stage. Despite the fact the screenshot of the navigation software is looking like TomTom, the Dutch company "is not part of this project" said a TomTom representative to GPS Business News.

Connecting mobile phones to dashboards

FordMobile Navigation is a very interesting and innovative solution. Obviously, black and white icons are not the sexiest in-dash navigation interface; however, this system shows the way to more complex implementations which are likely to come in the future. Mobile phones are limited by the size of their screen and, to some extent, by their audio capabilities. Therefore seamlessly transferring the audio and visual output of the mobile navigation to the car’s speakers and dashboard screen is a logic trend for the navigation industry. Ford and its partners are the first to move in that direction.

TomTom’s crowdsourcing: 5 millionth map correction

TomTom, today announces that members of the TomTom Map Share community have made a total of five million map updates worldwide. The Map Share community has grown from half a million users at the beginning of this year to over five million users today.

Map Share allows TomTom customers to make improvements to their map directly on their navigation devices. Once checked by TomTom moderators, these updates are made available to the entire Map Share community. “To put this five million milestone in perspective: a one-hour trip made anywhere in Europe or North America will be influenced by twenty to thirty Map Share corrections,” said Corinne Vigreux, managing director TomTom. In comparison to Map Share, digital map provider Tele Atlas receives on average 15,000 reports per month from end users via its online map reporting system, Map Insight.

No exponential growth

However, this Map Share growth is highly conditioned by the number of new TomTom customers and the fact these customers shall buy a new map every year to be able to use Map Share over time. Therefore in the first year of the growth might look impressive but after a while we can anticipate — because many users are not keen to update their maps every year — that the number of corrections will stall, especially as the demand for PNDs softens in the tough macroeconomic environment.



Passive crowdsourcing


But TomTom’s crowdsourcing does not limit itself to Map Share. While Map Share requires TomTom users to actively help improve the map accuracy, at the same time TomTom collects even more interesting data that are sent passively by its users. In TomTom’s desktop software, TomTom Home, one of the preferences states: “Enable collection of anonymous usage statistics”. If the user opts in, then all its trips will be sent anonymously to TomTom as a GPS track every time the device is synchronized with TomTom Home. This huge database of coordinates, speed and directions represents 500 billion unique points and has enabled Tele Atlas to build a rather comprehensive speed profile database for Europe and the United States.

Clear Channel expands RDS-TMC traffic coverage to 95 U.S. markets

Clear Channel Radio’s Total Traffic Network (CCTTN), a U.S. provider of real time traffic data, today announced an expansion to its service over RDS-TMC for in-dash and personal navigation systems from 80 to 95 metropolitan areas.

“Our real-time traffic service has seen an explosion in momentum this year with paid subscribers to the service reaching a milestone of 500,000, providing traffic info to Volvo models, Mio Technology expanding their relationship with us, ASUS arming their first PND with our data — and now our expansion into 15 more markets,” said Jeff Littlejohn, Executive Vice President of Distribution Development for Clear Channel Radio.

The additional markets include Binghamton, NY; Charleston, SC; El Paso, TX; Grand Rapids, MI; Honolulu, HI; Melbourne, FL; Mobile, AL; Modesto, CA; Oklahoma City, OK; Panama City, FL; Pensacola, FL; Spokane, WA; Stockton, CA; Tallahassee, FL; and Tuscaloosa, AL.

Clear Channel delivers real-time traffic data via in-car (BMW, MINI USA, and Volvo all offer TTN as a standard, subscription-free service) or portable navigation systems (ASUS, Garmin, TomTom, Navigon, Mio Technology, Delphi, Kenwood, Clarion, Harmon Kardon, Panasonic, Siemens, Cobra Electronics and others), broadcast media, wireless and Internet-based services.

Nav N Go iGO 8 available for Windows smartphones in Europe

Navigation software editor Nav N Go has started this month to distribute its software package for Windows Mobile touchscreen devices in Europe. After launching locally in Hungary last month, the Budapest-based company signed a first distribution agreement in France with Bluetrade, a wholesaler of mobile solutions for the B2B and B2C market, specializing in the distribution of Smartphones and accessories for mobile devices.

The product is available in a box which includes a 2GB microSD card (with miniSD and standard SD card adaptors) preloaded with Nav N Go iGO 8 3D navigation software, along with a Quick Start Guide in 27 different languages and a DVD containing the update tool Content Manager Application, the user manual and full map content for 43 European countries. With a clear, intuitive and easy to use interface, Nav N Go iGO 8 features a ‘simple’ mode for less experienced users, and an ‘expert’ mode for the more advanced.

The package will retail at €149.

Mio brings connected local search to new PNDs in Europe

Yesterday, at the CEBIT trade show in Germany, Mio unveiled its new European range Mio Moov with three products Moov 370, Moov 330, Moov 200 (Moov 330 and Moov 200 are available with one country map or full European maps). Both the Moov 370 (€279.99) and the Moov 330 (€229.99 for Europe or €179.99 for one region) offer Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone calls and the option to perform a local search via the mobile phone (with a data plan). Mio has set up partnerships with local mobile search providers in key European countries to enable this “MioMore” service. Users of the Moov 200 ((€179.99 for Europe or €149.99 for one region) will have the possibility to search online from their desktop and transfer the POIs via USB to their device.

The Moov products also feature a new software, legacy of the Navman acquisition last year. Previously known as SmartST, this navigation software now integrates 1,000 3D city landmarks from Tele Atlas. These new PNDs will be available across Europe in April.

Exit Nav N Go

As a result of using the “Navman” software, the company will be doing significant savings, the Nav N Go software license costing the company an estimated $5 to $8 per unit. Obviously this is not good news for Nav N Go. Mio is its biggest customer, accounting for around 15% of its revenue as Nav N Go CEO, Leon van De Pas, told GPS Business News in January.

However the Nav N Go software is still used by Mio today for its upper end product range that features navigation with 3D buildings in addition to 3D landmarks. Mio declined to comment on its software plans for this product range moving forward, but one might expect the Mio software team based in New Zealand to be working on a full 3D software that could replace the Nav N Go solution.

North American market

However the new products announced at CEBIT are not planned to be launched in North America. Other products will be available in the United States: Moov 200, 210, 300 and 310 with 3.5 to 4.3 inches screen sizes and prices from $179,95 to $249.95. Mio expects them to be available on the shelves in six weeks from now.

But none of these products feature Bluetooth and the connected local search option. Kiyoshi Hamai, director of sales and product management at Mio in the United States said to GPS Business News today: “what we have seen so far from our U.S. customers is that they have more basic needs than in Europe. The need for more advanced features will come overtime, but today the bulk of our sales is really in the entry level. The U.S. market is still two to three years behind Europe in terms of market maturity.”

Pioneer goes high-end with new AVIC-F500BT PND

Unveiled today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the Pioneer AVIC-F500BT mixes navigation features and entertainment capabilities as well as offers consumer an “hybrid solution” to be used as a portable solution on a cradle or integrated into the dashboard.

“It aggregates compatible portable personal devices — whether it’s an iPod, an MP3 player or Bluetooth cell phone — and links them all together without having to completely change out the car’s entire factory audio system”, said Larry Rougas, vice president of marketing and product planning at Pioneer Electronics USA. “And with VoiceBox technology, which goes beyond fixed voice commands, the use of these devices in the car is more convenient,” he added.



Multimedia


The AVIC-F500BT can operate as both a navigation device and as a media center for entertainment. Through an auxiliary audio input in a factory audio system or using the available Pioneer installation module, the system becomes an aggregator and “gateway” for personal audio and communication devices. Built-in speakers and a rechargeable battery are also provided for use of the system while on the go.

It accepts portable devices with a USB connection and music-filled SD memory cards through two slots available in the body of the unit. When a device is plugged in, the AVIC-F500BT recognizes it as a source and controls it through its touch panel display and/or by voice control.

Voice recognition

The AVIC-F500BT includes the “Conversational Voice Search Platform” from voice recognition company VoiceBox. The conversational element is its ability to analyze normal and varying phrases such as “I want to hear the artist U2” or “play U2” and play back the songs accordingly. Another element of “conversational” is in situations where the user command is not crystal clear, such as, “Play, um, um let’s see the album Joshua Tree.” The unit has the capacity to recognize the command from the phrase, eliminating the extra words.

Additionally, with “intent recognition”, the user does not have to perform special commands for voice call. It can simply say, “Call John Doe” and the unit will prompt the user for additional information by responding, “I have two numbers for John Doe, Home and Mobile. Which would you like to call?”

Pure navigation functions are not left apart

But the AVIC-F500BT is also a powerful navigation device powered by Tele Atlas maps. Its 5.8 inches WVGA screen let ever the most short-sighted driver see the directions. The text to speech engine gives names of the streets. In addition, the AVIC-F500BT displays traffic information, weather forecasts, gas prices and movie times for up to 100 cities across the United States and Canada thanks to MSN Direct. The first three months of this service are offered for free, the cost of a further subscription has not been made public yet. The system also lets users update and add POI information via the SD card slot using a PC application provided by Pioneer.

Furthermore, for safety, the AVIC-F500BT is equipped with a camera input and back-up trigger. The system automatically displays images from an optional camera, when the vehicle is shifted into reverse.

One disappointment however comes to mind looking at the data sheet of this device: the voice recognition does not extend to the navigation. This is clearly a missing feature on such high end device that will compete with Magellan, Garmin, TomTom products that offer it. Next year at the CES?