End of road for personal sat navs as smart phone takes over

2 Sep 2009

The recent arrival of the TomTom sat nav as an app on the iPhone is the perfect indicator for the direction the sat nav industry is heading. It is the end of the road for standalone portable navigation devices (PNDs), all hail the smart phone.

A few weeks ago TomTom’s official sat nav app for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS arrived in the Apple App Store.

The turn-by-turn sat nav application is priced at €79.99 for Ireland and the UK, and offers the same TomTom experience as the TomTom device complete with IQ Routes for calculating the fastest, most efficient routes. The TomTom app is also integrated with your iPhone’s contacts list, so if you have addresses entered for your friends and family, you can go straight through to contacts and it will automatically plot your route.

This is only the tip of the iceberg say research firm iSuppli as GPS-equipped smart phones take over.

After several years of strong sales growth, PNDs will continue to lead the navigation market in 2009, with 114 million sets to be in use by the end of the year, compared to 57.8 million smart phones. However, by 2014, usage of navigation-enabled smart-phones will rise to 305 million units, exceeding the 128 million PNDs that will be around by then.

“Previously, smart phones were not seen as a threat to the dominance of PNDs due to mobile handsets’ poor battery life, unclear pricing structures and inferior interface,” said Danny Kim, global Location-Based Service (LBS) analyst for iSuppli.

“However, as smart-phone design moves forward, many of these issues have been or will be resolved, leading to increased market share for navigation applications on smart phones.”

New smart-phone models are more suitable for use with navigation applications for a range of reasons, including the integration of GPS functionality, better usability, larger screens, built-in connectivity and most importantly, the flurry of applications being developed for smart phones. Other features boosting the smart-phones’ utility for navigation include better microprocessor support, higher internal flash memory and improved battery life.

iSuppli believes that in 2011, nearly 100pc of all smart phones shipped will integrate GPS functionality.

“These features will give smart phones similar feature sets as mid-range PNDs, making them more attractive to users,” Kim said.

Another factor driving increased usage of smart-phone navigation is the launch of high-profile navigation applications from TomTom and Navigon for the iPhone.

“These new applications will make the iPhone a better match for the PNDs, diverting attention from the portable navigation devices,” Kim said.

With TomTom’s announcement last week, Apple now has eight navigation applications for the iPhone—two off-board solutions and six on-board counterparts.

The initial reaction from iPhone users should be encouraging to the application suppliers.

Owing to the arrival of these applications, iPhone navigation users are expected to increase to 28 million in 2013, up from just 2 million in 2009, iSuppli predicts.


The rise of smart-phone navigation represents another milestone in the remarkable story of the PND.

The starting gun for the PND market was in 2004, when the product began exceeding all expectations in growth and popularity and continued to so for several years. The year 2009 marks the dividing line when sales expansion for the PND slows as the product moves from the growth phase to the maturity stage of its life cycle.

The two major PND vendors are expected to maintain very similar market shares in the PND space into 2013.

iSuppli forecasts that the number of TomTom and Garmin PNDs in use—based on a three-year life span—will not significantly change between 2009 and 2013. Any new growth in PND shipments is likely to come from the Asia-Pacific region, where past map coverage has been patchy but is improving.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: The TomTom car kit for the iPhone

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years