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Summary:

GPS navigation maker Garmin is trying the smartphone game again with a new model for T-Mobile. Only this time, Garmin is using Google Android. How can a GPS company compete with Google Navigation on a handset? There’s one key advantage that Garmin is able to offer.

T-Mobile USA today took the wraps off an exclusive new handset from Garmin, the GPS navigation company, that runs the Google Android operating system. Available later this spring, the Garminfone touchscreen handset offers 3G connectivity on T-Mobile’s network, a 3-megapixel camera with geo-tagging support, access to Google’s Android Market for software applications — and pre-loaded maps of North America.

The pre-loaded maps give the Garminfone a key competitive advantage because they allow the device to offer directions without a cellular signal. That’s in contrast to other Android-based handsets, which feature built-in Google Navigation, as they have to pull directions from the cloud. Garmin also integrates the navigation functionality throughout applications on the phone — tapping an address in nearly any app offers directions; the phone can even help you locate your parked car.

This isn’t Garmin’s first attempt to branch out beyond its core competency of dedicated navigation devices, which, much like standalone MP3 players, are rendered largely obsolete by smartphones that offer converged services and features. AT&T carries Garmin’s nuvifone, but the handset uses a proprietary operating system, so consumers don’t have access to a large software application store. By building the Garminfone on the Android platform, Garmin is combining strong navigation features — both online and offline — with availability of the over 38,000 software titles in the Google Android Market.

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Image credit: T-Mobile

  1. Garmin should sell an amazing app for Android phones that has preloaded maps (with real-time caching of changes!). I’d happily pay $50 for a great GPS app. I have 4 Android phones, and my Moto Cliq (Android 1.5) comes with some nav software that I’ve only tried once and doesn’t seem all that wonderful.

    I like the Archos 5IT’s GPS, but it takes FOREVER to get a lock (30 seconds – 4 minutes).

    Google Nav is nice and all, but I’ve had serious issues when I’ve been out of signal, such as recently in Nevada and Arizona out in the mountains. Fail.

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  2. Good thing it has Android 1.6 so you can use Google Maps Nav.

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    1. How will you use Google Maps Nav in an area of limited or no cell signal coverage, such as the commenter above?

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      1. It doesn’t now, but it’s very plausible for Google to pre-fetch routes and surrounding areas that could allow for automatic recalculation.

        It wouldn’t help if you were out of coverage and changed your mind on where you wanted to go, but it could address many use cases.

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      2. Rocky, I’d love to see Google take that step. Even if they did it incrementally, i.e.: use your phone’s GPS location at home to provide regional map downloads in the background and store them locally.

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  3. [...] T-Mobile’s New Garminfone Trumps Google Navigation [...]

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  4. I think it can be a big win for Garmin if they advertise and implement it well. It’s Breeze UI looks nothing like other android UI’s and it’s not bastardized like AT&T’s Android phones so it can use the Andriod Market. If they get good speech-to-text to complement the text-to-speech then handsfree texting in the car can be a viable option.

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  5. If u are worried about losing signal go with the Motorola Droid. Verizon’s network is far superior to T-Mobiles hands down. I’ve been a Tmobile customer since voice stream. I recently switched to Verizon. I travel 48 states and rarely ever don’t have a 3G signal. I love Google navigation BTW. Too bad Tmobiles moto cliq shipped with the substandard 1.5 android. Really sad Tmobile! You CA.d even use Google navigation. Wow: (

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  6. Having used various Garmin mobile products in the past I don’t hold out much hold for the new crop. Once a name synonymous with quality GPS-based products, lately their introductions have been plagued with quirky bugs and a confusing and sometimes expensive update process. For instance, are database updates for the product mentioned in this article free and how often will they be available?

    Often I’m off the grid and I appreciate the on-board navigation database of my smartphone. But I have to wonder, hasn’t anyone figured out how to buffer Google map data over a pre-defined region or a set distance from the current GPS fix? Seems a simple and obvious fix for Google maps.

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  7. [...] T-Mobile’s New Garminfone Trumps Google Navigation (gigaom.com) [...]

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