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Garmin's Ready to Rumble With New 'iPhone Killer'

Garmin's Ready to Rumble With New 'iPhone Killer'

Garmin had no choice but to announce the Nuvifone, said Julien Blin, a research analyst in the wireless and mobile communications group at IDC. "There's been a lot of competition in the U.S., especially from TomTom, and they're afraid of losing market share."

If you think the Apple iPhone is cool, wait till you see the Nuvifone that Garmin announced Wednesday in New York.

It combines GPS (Global Positioning System), mobile phone, still and video camera, and MP3 and video player functionality with Internet access capability.

Or it will, anyway, if Garmin can stick to its announced launch schedule and deliver Nuvifone to the market by the third quarter of this year.

For the Lost Ones

Assume for the moment that the Nuvifone is available, so I can speak in the present tense.

The Nuvifone has a 3.5-inch screen with three primary icons -- "Call," "Search" and "View Map" -- all of which are self-explanatory. Wanna make a call? Tap the "Call" icon. And so on.

You can never get lost. The Nuvifone not only comes preloaded with maps of the U.S. or Europe or both, plus a built-in database with millions of points of interest -- think coffee houses, banks, ATMs, police stations and so on -- but also remembers where you last parked the car before you took it out of the dashboard mount and walked off with it.

If you miss a turn while driving, it recalculates your route and utters little voice prompts as you drive along, giving you turn-by-turn directions. Makes me long to have my mother-in-law in the back seat once more.

If you've lost your bearings, touch the screen and your exact latitude and longitude coordinates will be immediately displayed, together with the nearest street address and intersection, and the closest hospitals, police stations and gas stations.

More Functions

The Nuvifone includes Google's local search capability; responses to a search are sorted based on your current location and relevance, and are accompanied by Web-based ratings.

It also has a Web browser that you operate using the touchscreen, and e-mail, text and instant-messaging capabilities.

When you dock the Nuvifone on the vehicle mount, it automatically turns on the GPS, activates the navigation menu and enables hands-free calling.

Users get access to Garmin Online, a proprietary service offering constantly updated news, and real-time information on traffic, fuel and stock prices, sports scores, local events and weather forecasts.

For the Traveler

The Nuvifone has a still camera and video camera built-in. When you take a photo, it automatically gets tagged with the exact latitude and longitude of the location where you snapped the shot.

You can save the image or e-mail it to someone else; either way, the coordinates will let you return to the exact spot where you took the photo.

You also get access to millions of geo-located photographs of scenery and landmarks on Google's Panoramic picture-sharing suite.

What's travel without music? You get a built-in media player with MP3 and MPEG4/AAC capabilities in the Nuvifone.

Technical Stuff

The Nuvifone uses Garmin's proprietary operating system.

It supports HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), also known as "3.5G," which promises download speeds on a mobile phone of up to 8-10 Mbps.

It has Quad-band GSM (global system for mobile communications), which means it supports all four major GSM frequency bands, so you can roam in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

The Nuvifone also has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, as well as UMTS, or universal mobile telecommunications service -- a 3G broadband, packet-based technology based on the GSM standard, which transmits text, digitized voice, video and multimedia at up to 2 Mbps.

Due Dates

The Nuvifone is slated for release in the third quarter of 2008.

Pricing and information about sales partners will be announced later on.

New? What's new?

Mobile phones with GSM capabilities and Quad-band GSM have been available for quite awhile.

Verizon Wireless has the VZ Navigator service, which offers audible turn-by-turn directions to nearly 14 million points of interest in the U.S., including landmarks, restaurants and ATMs.

Sound naggingly familiar?

Price: US$9.99 for monthly access; $2.99 per day, good for 24 hours.

VZ Navigator is available on cell phones as well as BlackBerry devices.

Helio earlier this month introduced a slider phone called "Mysto," based on the Samsung U600, which will offer free GPS capability with Google Maps integration. The Mysto will be priced at $150; for another $3 monthly, users can get Microsoft's Tellme service, which lets them search for local information through voice input.

As for Quad-band GSM, two of the many phones out there with this capability include the Motorola MotoRizr Z3 and Nokia's N81 8GB Quad Band GSM slider cell phone.

Follow the Money

Garmin had no choice but to announce the Nuvifone, Julien Blin, a research analyst in the wireless and mobile communications group at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

"There's been a lot of competition in the U.S., especially from TomTom (another GPS device maker), and they're afraid of losing market share," Blin said. "Garmin's stock went down -- and, not surprisingly, it went up again yesterday after the announcement, because people wanted to know what they're going to do to fight back."

On January 22, Morgan Stanley was "somewhat positive" on Garmin, according to the blog Seeking Alpha, after data showed it increased its U.S. market share from 29 percent in November 2007 to 42 percent in December. The data "should help to alleviate some near-term investor concerns about Garmin's U.S. market share," Morgan Stanley reportedly said.

In the main, Garmin's regaining of market share in December was likely due to spot shortages at TomTom, according to the blog post.

Competition Heats Up

While the Nuvifone is known right now as the "iPhone-killer," the shoe may be on the other foot soon enough.

"Maybe by the third quarter, Apple will come up with a 3G iPhone," Blin said. "Also, the iPhone will have a WiFi location-based feature using Skyhook Wireless, which means Garmin will have to add some new features."

Garmin may seek to do this through acquisitions, Blin said.

Meanwhile, there are rumors afoot that Dell and Google may be partnering on a new GSM phone based on the Android platform with advanced capabilities to rival the iPhone.

That's why Dell hired away Ron Garriques, Motorola's head of handsets, a Mobile Mentalism blog post suggests.

The Android Factor

The rumored Dell/Google phone will use the Android open platform. Google is expected to announce the phone either at the 3GSM Mobile World Congress, which will be held in Barcelona, Spain February 11-14, or in the third quarter of this year, Blin said, "to go head to head with Garmin."

Android was developed by the Open Handset Alliance, an alliance of more than 30 leading technology and mobile companies.

It is a fully integrated mobile software stack consisting of an operating system, middleware, a user-friendly interface and applications.

The first phones based on Android should be out by the second half of this year, the Alliance said.

Pricing and Other Factors

All this activity is likely to precipitate a price war, Blin predicted, which will be good for the consumer.

Apple might cut the iPhone retail price to $50, he said, adding that it "will be important for Garmin to come up with the right price."

AT&T and T-Mobile will likely pick up the Nuvifone "because they both use GSM," added Blin.

So, is the Nuvifone ever going to surface, or is it a ploy by Garmin to stay afloat? Chances are, it's for real. The big questions now are, can Garmin deliver on time, and can it make the Nuvifone affordable?


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