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
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
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.
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.
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.
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°.
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.
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
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.
Dedicated in-car GPS has the power for real-time processing,
daylight readable screens, and won’t lose your licence if you touch them!
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.
That said, once many new car drivers use the factory fitted
GPS they soon realise it is not as good
as a portable device and often prohibitively expensive to update maps, they
come back to a standalone GPS device.
Then there are Smartphones.
The Australian market is expected to reach 75% penetration by 2022 of
the Australian phone market compared with 43.7% ten years earlier. Yes, they
get you from A to B, and they are convenient. However it is not their core
function and the experience a stand-alone device will give is far superior. Not
to mention the fact it is legal to use a GPS.
But of course, we can’t ignore these two factors have a significant
influence on our sales.
Q: What is the next-gen portable GPS going to look like?
It will be more agile. Car companies focus on making cars
and the process of designing, testing, manufacturing and selling can be years,
which means software for things like GPS can be outdated by the time it hits
the market. We can be agile and have new models and new over-the-air features
within weeks, months at best.
I can’t be specific, but I can hint at a more smartphone-like
format: larger, high-res, high brightness, screens yet a smaller, thinner body;
better and less obtrusive magnetic windscreen and dash mounting and processing
power to burn.
Some will have IoT-like 3/4G connectivity, traffic, cloud
access, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and over the air updates. Let’s just say these smarts
will offer far richer content and experiences than a smartphone. We are working
closely with our mapping partners to provide richer content and experience.
In short portable GPS needs to bring the best navigation
experience to the driver, leaving out only those things that are dependent on
being part of the car itself.
Q: What will that do to the cost?
WH: We’ll need to determine that. Unlike mobile phones, GPS devices are more
affordable, however strangely consumers expect them to last for many more years
than they would anticipate from their smartphone, so there is a perception that
there is less utility and therefore less value in your GPS.
A good quality mass-market smartphone is several times the cost of a quality
GPS and typically have only half the lifespan, often less. If we can increase
the features, advantages and utility of our devices as the better in-car device
over mobile phones while maintaining the pricing, I think we’ll do very well.
Q: What about dashcams – have they been a saviour?
WH: The dash cam market started fairly slowly five years ago
and has really accelerated in the past three. Now around half the insurance
claims made include dash cam footage as evidence.
It’s becoming more sophisticated, and people are now
searching for products that guarantee great quality footage, not just any old
footage. Proving fault in an insurance
claim can be impossible if your evidence isn’t there – impossible to read
number plates, wrong colours, poor night shots, and so on. And some people learned this, at a cost.
HDR or Wide Dynamic Range (to fill in details in
the shadows or bright areas)
A full GPS tracking with the ability to map
overlay it (time/speed/location)
Lots of microSD space (more than 64GB is good)
ours is 128GB
And a decent three-or-even four-axis sensor that
can show the direction of the impact as well as the car’s direction at that
We were early to the idea of combining a GPS navigation
device with dash cam and our Drive Duo range has been a huge hit for us. For countries like Australia and New Zealand
where there is a large market for 4WD and SUVs and a real thirst to get outback
or away from the cities, products that allow people to do this – and do it
safely – have been very popular. Phones
just don’t work for this type of environment – they’re often out of range in
large tracts of Australia, whereas the GPS will always have you covered.
And of course, even dash cams have grown to be more than
just about the camera itself. They come
with speed and safety camera alert warnings and ADAS (advanced driver
assistance). We even have a product that
will continuously monitor your tyre pressure along the way – perfect for large
vehicles or when you’re towing a caravan or boat. We even have a product built especially for
large truck drivers including B-Doubles, the Big Rig Duo.
People are also buying more and more rear cameras. These come as standard with a number of our
MiVUE products, and you can purchase as an add-on. It’s not surprising when around 30% of
accidents are ‘rear-enders’. Again,
making sure that the camera is good quality, at least 1080p is key.
Q: What advances do you see in dashcams?
We’ve already come a long way with combo GPS/dash cams–
especially with the ability to have higher megapixel cameras – 2K or 4K. Wi-Fi
makes sense (park your car within range of a home Wi-Fi router or extender) and
upload footage to a smartphone or PC, and more driver assistance like speed
camera warnings, and even more ADAS features.
We’ll see easier software updates via WI-FI in future, and
alerts around road conditions and advance warnings on lane change and so on to
keep people even safer.
A good 2K or 4K sensor with big pixels – at least 8MP, wide aperture f/1.8 or lower, glass lenses, at least a 140° distortion-free viewing angle (higher is good, but it distorts the image too much), and decent screen to view it on.
GadgetGuy reviewed the Drive Duo SUV here giving it 4.4-out-of-5 and calling it the best all-in-one with a great GPS and fit for purpose dash cam.
Q; Is dashcam footage admissible evidence now?
Yes, insurance companies now say that over half of the
claims have dashcam evidence. Police will use it, and lawyers will use it. Sydney
lawyers in this field tell us that proof often relies on the quality of the
Let’s just say that I would not want to be the person who
did not have a camera, and moreover, it doesn’t make sense to me when the cost
of a device is considerably lower than the cost of your insurance excess.
Q: Last words?
We’re definitely not dead as an industry! There are still a lot of people driving in
this market, a lot of people who drive for work and a lot of recreational
Police and safety experts agree, it is distractions that cause many accidents. Which is why mobile phone use, while you are behind the wheel, will always be frowned upon, but worse, cost drivers money and their lives! However strong your willpower, there is always the temptation to do more, even when your phone is in an approved cradle. Don’t risk it, use a proper, good quality sat-nav and Bluetooth your phone so you can take calls.
And get the best dash cam you can with the best camera. It’s foolhardy not to.
Navman is part of the MiTAC group which high tech manufacturing plants in Taiwan and around Asia that build incredible quality products and invest highly in R&D for the sector and working with partners we believe we’ll continue to offer products that make driving safer and less stressful.