The Dawning Age of Social Navigation

[qi:gigaom_icon_mobile] Within five years, your cell phone will replace your Garmin, TomTom or whatever personal navigation device is currently sitting in your car, according to a Forrester report published today. Forrester supports this conclusion by arguing that more young people are using their cell phones for navigation and that because the phone is web-connected rather than offering static data, it provides a greater benefit. I’m not sure I would toss out the old Garmin just yet, however.

As GPS and services like Skyhook Wireless, which use Wi-Fi to help provide navigation even when GPS signals aren’t available, proliferate on cell phones, the communication devices can serve as a decent source of navigation. However, they are far from perfect. Skyhook analyzed customer feedback on gadget review sites and found most cell phone-based navigation services were slow, provided spotty coverage and drained the battery. They are also expensive, around $10 a month at AT&T (s T) and Verizon (s vz).  Despite this, AT&T said that its navigation applications generated the most revenue in new sales during the first quarter of this year, which means phones currently have something the consumer wants.

I think that something is actually connectivity and interactivity — namely the ability to get information like real-time traffic and maybe the closest, clean restroom on your road trip. I think of it as social navigation, in which information provided by user reviews or data from other people currently traveling on the same route is packaged up as useful, real-time information for the traveler. If personal navigation devices can add this type of social element, perhaps by using a data connection in the car, they may stay ahead of phones. Dash Navigation, the makers of a personal navigation device we loved, attempted this, but is now licensing its software to other device makers. When it comes to navigation it’s not the phone that’s essential, but the connectivity. Finding neutral wireless connectivity at a reasonable cost will be the key theme in the decade to come.

socialnavchart courtesy of Forrester