First Click: Google killed the personal navigation device six years ago this week

October 29th, 2015

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Six years ago this week, Google announced that turn-by-turn directions were coming to Maps in Android 2.0. The demonstration put smartphones on a collision course with dedicated satnav devices from TomTom and Garmin. Here’s how Google described it at the time:

"This new feature comes with everything you’d expect to find in a GPS navigation system, like 3D views, turn-by-turn voice guidance and automatic rerouting. But unlike most navigation systems, Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up to take advantage of your phone’s Internet connection."

At the time, Ross Miller wrote that incumbent satnav device makers were right to fear Google as Vic Gundotra demonstrated the TomTom and Garmin killer to the gathered press. "The game has changed," wrote Chris Ziegler, citing plunging stock numbers for TomTom (down 21 percent on the day) and Garmin (down 16 percent). Today, both stocks are trading at about the same level as late 2009 while Google's value has soared.

Let's see how interest in the three has changed over time:

This Google Trends chart, while far from scientific, shows the search-related interest in Google Maps vs. Garmin and TomTom. (Hint: interest in TomTom and Garmin approaches zero if you turn on forecasting — ouch.)

Google has since revealed self-driving cars, making its Maps initiative far more ambitious than anyone suspected back in 2009. And companies like Nokia and Apple rolled out their own turn-by-turn solutions forcing TomTom and Garmin to diversify as revenue streams from personal navigation devices dried up. TomTom, for example, has seen revenues plunge from a record high of €634 million in Q4 2007 to just €254 million last quarter.

TomTom is now focused on selling components like maps (Apple is one customer), traffic services, and navigation software as well as consumer products like a GPS-equipped sports watch. Garmin has made similar moves while also expanding its marine and aviation markets. Neither has fully recovered.

For makers of personal navigation devices, October 28th, 2009 is a date that will live in infamy.

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