Convergionists Rule PNDs

There’s broadly two schools of thought for mobile technology. The issue tends to polarise people and some can get quite heated about it all, for some reason.

First, we have what I call the Separatistas, who believe that a specialist device is always going to beat one that can multi-task. “I know phones can play music,” they cry passionately, “but not as well as an MP3 player!!”.

Then we have the Convergionists, who pragmatically point out that the same could be said about cameras, videos, calculators, watches and alarm clocks. A specialist camera is usually going to be better than a camera phone, but that doesn’t mean that the specialist camera industry hasn’t been decimated or that Nokia isn’t the leading camera brand in the world. This is in spite of camera phones only being 10 years old.

In fact, “good enough” and convenience is always going to trump the hassle of carrying an extra device that you only use occasionally – for most people.

The same may about to happen with the Personal Navigation Device. Business Week ran an article yesterday pointing out that both TomTom and Garmin, the leaders in this field, are having a bit of a downturn. Executives are blaming a faltering economy, the low price of the dollar pushing up retail prices, cheap competition – anything but the fact that the market is about to be subsumed by the mobile phone tsunami.

Now, I’m sure that there are plenty of PND owners who are passionate Separatistas and who will bring out the same old arguments. And I agree that current versions of mobile phone navigation systems aren’t as good as the specialist device. But it’s good enough, as anyone with the Google Maps on their phone will tell you.

The only real question in my mind is whether the mobile will take over the specialist in-car sector at some point, which is going to be immune from the slump for a while yet. I’d guess it will take over, as the concept of docking your mobile into your car, which has a special, larger screen and speakers, and then removing it when you park to get guidance within the last mile, will be very compelling. Certainly, a lower cost docking station is going to be more attractive, for most, than the full monty.

So my advice is that if you work in the navigation sector, get your CV or Resume into a handset manufacturer, before all your colleagues see the writing on the wall. I can’t see much of a future for the stand alone PND, I’m afraid. And just remember that if this sounds far-fetched, I’m sure plenty of people in the camera industry would have scoffed at the same idea – just 10 years ago.

—–>Follow us on Twitter too: @russellbuckley and @caaarlo