GadgetGuy has been pondering the future of portable car GPS navigation and dashcams. We have reviewed (and are reviewing) several models and looking at the impact of smartphones on these.

To probe the future of portable car GPS navigation and dashcams, we spoke to Wendy Hammond, Managing Director of Navman Australia and NewZealand. This article is an amalgam of GadgetGuy’s experience and Wendy’s insider knowledge.

GadgetGuy has seen the market contracting since about 2015 when smartphone navigation reached a level of usable maturity

Sales of portable in-car GPS navigation units from Navman, Garmin, TomTom, Uniden, Magellan and generic brands have tanked. Dashcams are selling OK, but several factors could see a resurgence in both.

Smartphones are smaller, lighter, and map software (Google Maps and Here) is getting better. Plus – everyone has one. The result – the traditional GPS navigation industry is being eaten by software!

But late in 2017 along came tough new smartphone laws in Australia that makes it illegal (in some states) to even to look at it while driving – let alone touch a smartphone in the car. And it is totally illegal for Learners, P-1 and P2 platers and motorcyclists to even have their phone on their person.

Regardless of differing state laws this article outlines what you can and cannot do and you need to know that unless your phone is in a proper cradle affixed to the windscreen or dash, you can be fined for just ‘thinking’ about using it.

GPS

Smartphones may have good mapping software, but they are often useless as real-time navigation devices.

GadgetGuy reviews smartphones – dozens each year. One of our tests is to see what their responsiveness and accuracy are when used in-car in an approved cradle. We typically find several things.

Too much lag to be useful

  • On all except the higher-powered flagship phones, the CPU/GPU is incapable of both running the phone as well as the GPS and refreshing the screen in real-time.
GPS

What that means for lower cost smartphones is verbal, or screen instructions are typically issued at the very last minute or too late to make a safe turn. Recalculation of routes is also slow. I don’t know about you, but I find this dangerous and totally unacceptable.

Too much battery drain

  • A GPS drains the battery very quickly. It places a near 100% load on CPU/GPU and 100% screen-on time, and that means the battery will flatten in a matter of hours. Some popular mid-range and lower cost smartphones get less than 2 hours use on a charge.
GPS

Sure, you can plug a smartphone into the car cigarette lighter socket, but most adapters don’t have enough amperage to keep it going in GPS mode, let alone charge the battery. So you end up with a smartphone you can’t use as one!

And don’t forget that temperatures inside locked, parked car can reach 70° – a smartphone is held together by hot melt glue that starts to melt at 50°.

GPS

Poor daylight screen readability

  • Unless you have a flagship AMOLED screen with very high brightness (at least 400 nits and almost infinite contrast) and low screen reflectivity, then the typical smartphone is damned hard to see in daylight or direct sunlight. I have tried with everything from cheapies to $1000+, and all LCD screens suffer in daylight.
GPS
Top – LCD screen in bright daylight. Bottom OLED in same conditions.

Limited driver assistance or navigation smarts

  • Smartphone navigation software does not have the level of driver assistance, landmark navigation, complex intersection pictures and so many more things we take for granted to get from A to B. Soon Google Maps will have speed camera information. Big deal – in-car GPS has had that for years!

At best, using your smartphone is a stopgap measure. Almost every time I have tried, it has ended in tears, especially when your smartphone runs out of power much sooner than you think. The cradles are usually cheap, break easily and often fall off potentially damaging your smartphone.

GPS
Pretty basic!

Dedicated in-car GPS has the power for real-time processing, daylight readable screens, and won’t lose your licence if you touch them!

GadgetGuy spoke to Wendy Hammond, managing director, Navman Australia and New Zealand.

GPS

Wendy has been with Navman since 2006 and has seen the industry start and take off only to falter with smartphone adoption and then take off again after legislation made GPS a more practical option.

Q: What is the state of the in-car portable GPS market?

WH: A steady but slow decline for some years – today it is probably about 30% of what it was five years ago in terms of volume of sales – but we’ve seen a noticeable pick-up over the past 12 months from the new Australian laws from 2018 onwards regarding smartphone use in a car.

Q: Why the decline – I mean we all need navigation?

WH: Two parts to answer – there are more new cars on the road than five years ago and almost 40% come with factory fitted GPS, and also there is the rise of the smartphone.