GPS navigators get cooler by the day

Updated on Oct 12, 2007 03:49 AM IST

The GPS-based device and services market is taking off, and before long, finding a friend, restaurant or your way when you feel lost could be as easy as looking at a device on your hands, writes Ruchi Hajela.

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Hindustan Times | ByRuchi Hajela, New Delhi

Flaunting your sleek cellphone? Forget it. The next big thing is the PND, portable navigation device for the uninitiated. Indian companies are geared to sell the machines that will help you to find your way by linking your position on the earth to tracking satellites and sophisticated software-linked maps through the global positioning system (GPS).

GPS-enabled cellphones have been there in the market for quite a while now, but standalone PNDs at relatively affordable prices are also hitting the market. Service providers hope to marry social networking with GPS to make more money.

Simply put, you can hope to discover friends not far from you, because software and Internet will match your locations and interests.

“While navigation may be a good start for GPS in India, the service would gain ground with services built around social networking,” says Ashutosh Pande, managing director of SiRF Technlogies, which makes microchips and software for GPS.

Models like Nokia N95, Nokia E90, BlackBerry 8800, BlackBerry 8820 and BlackBerry 8830 (on Airtel) are GPS-enabled. The BlackBerry 8800 has Google maps on which turn-by-turn navigation is not possible but you can plot a route between two locations. However, the 8830 has maps from that allow turn-by-turn navigation.

“Most people would probably use GPS for their first time on their cellphones but once they realise the need for better quality of experience they would graduate to a PND,”says Ramesh Kashyap, General Manager, GPS India, which sells PNDs made by US-based GPS device firm Garmin International.

Garmin is expected anytime to release PNDs priced in the range of Rs. 15,000 to 40,000.The company had earlier pulled out its devices because there is a 36 per cent import duty and also confusion over security-sensitive maps of Indian cities.

Importing a GPS chip, like that made by SiRF Technologies ,attracts only four per cent import duty but then there are no PND vendors manufacturing in India. By December 2008, India could expect portable navigation devices to cost less than Rs 5,000 (they cost Rs 21,000 upwards) while the same will be possible in the US by this Christmas, industry officials say.

MapMyIndia, a part of CE Info Systems that deals with navigation services, recently launched a Delphi navigator with preloaded maps of 18 Indian cities and almost 4,00,000 points of interest (such as restaurants, petrol pumps, ATMs, hospitals etc.). The navigator lets you play music, watch videos, view pictures and navigate as a matter of chance and costs Rs 21,000. The company has 200 surveyors on the ground updating maps.

Rohan Verma, MapMyIndia’s, expects to sell around a 1,00,000 units of the unit in India.

Globally, the market is hotting up. A few days ago, Nokia announced a $8.1 billion acquisition of GPS firm Navteq, while PND vendor Tom Tom has tied up with TeleAtlas.

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