First Click: Giving a faded brand a second chance

March 2nd, 2016

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At what point do you give up on a brand you once admired?

It’s an interesting question to consider at a time when the once mighty HTC, Nokia, and Kodak companies struggle with reinvention.

I have fond memories of TomTom, for example. I was floored the first time one of its personal navigation devices triangulated my car’s position onto a city grid sometime in the early 2000s. It was one of those rare but memorable moments in personal technology when you realize that you’re living in the future. I felt that way again when the iPhone was announced in 2007 — a moment shared with the realization that TomTom’s days were numbered as I watched Steve Jobs prank a Starbucks from within Google Maps. TomTom’s fate would be sealed two years later when Google announced turn-by-turn navigation for Android 2.0. Since then, I never thought I’d use a TomTom device again. And I wasn’t alone.

TomTom has seen its revenues fall from a record high of €634 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 to just €258 million in the same quarter of 2015. As dismal at that looks, TomTom’s most recent numbers actually beat expectations. Hell, it’s projecting sales growth of around 5 percent for 2016 on the strength of new contracts for its mapping technology, and on two consecutive quarters of year-over-year growth from its consumer lineup. You might not realize it but TomTom's now making GPS fitness watches and action cams. It’s the latter, the TomTom Bandit camera, that has me giving the company I once admired a second look.

I’ve been a happy GoPro user since 2012. So when the offer came in to test the TomTom Bandit I wasn’t exactly what you’d call enthusiastic. But then I thought, my old HERO3 doesn’t shoot 4K video and the mic is terrible when placed inside the protective housing (which is always). Besides, I had a snowboard holiday coming up which gave me the perfect time to test it out. I was also more than a little bit curious to see how TomTom — a brand that’s best known for helping people avoid getting lost while maintaining the posted speed limit — would hold up to an action camera brand that’s synonymous with finding yourself by living a life of extremes.

Tiny TomTom Bandit cam in for testing. It's not the spoon that bends, it's you.

A photo posted by Stirred, never shaken. (@trixxy) on

I guess I wasn’t expecting much because I was surprisingly impressed by the Bandit unboxing experience. The tubular hardware is sleek and sporty without being obnoxious in that Oakley way. And the quick-mount system that works with or without gloves is so thoughtfully designed that it’s hard to believe GoPro hasn’t already adopted it. (TomTom includes an adapter for ubiquitous GoPro mounts). A twist and release of the camera housing reveals an integrated USB jack for fast recharges and data transfers without having to hunt for a cable. I’ve only made a few recordings over the last few weeks but already I can say that the sound is far superior to my admittedly old GoPro, thanks largely to the Bandit's waterproof design (up to 40 meters with the dive lens on) that doesn’t require a bulky external case. The Bandit is an action cam I’ll proudly mount to my helmet this week for testing as I ride down the slopes in an ocean of me-too GoPro riders.

Not all brands deserve a second chance, of course. That Polaroid logo, for example, has absolutely nothing to do with the company it once donned (the rights to the brand were sold off long ago.) But my experience so far with TomTom reminds me that we shouldn’t be too quick to give up on companies like Nokia, Kodak, and HTC who persevere despite all the naysayers.

Besides, what kind of heartless bastard doesn’t cheer for the underdog?

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