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Death of the PND

Apr
20
2007

Goodbye my beloved PND, and thanks for the guidance you’ve provided over the years. Clinging to my windshield you’ve led me on some amazing trips and shared amazing journeys, but it is time for you to go…. well almost. Most technology products have a limited life-span, eventually overtaken by other technologies which do the job better. The PND is no exception.

Aftermarket Car Accessories

In 1929 Paul Galvin invented the car radio. It wasn’t initially available from car manufacturers and instead was purchased as an optional accessory. It wasn’t well integrated into the car. Later car manufacturers caught on and car stereos were included from the factory.

My generation remembers a similar transition with CD players. Cars which initially included CD players were too expensive so I used Velcro to secure a portable CD player between the two front seats. a cable ran from the CD player to a cassette adapter lodged into the dash. Another cable ran into the cigarette lighter. All of the cables were ugly, the CD player skipped, and the players were a quick snatch for thieves. Sound familiar?

Sure, there is still demand for after-market stereos for those who want premium features, and the same market exist for “premium” navigation systems. But most people accept the stereo that come with their automobile and I would expect the same for navigation systems.

The same can even be said for the simple cup holder. Remember when cars didn’t come with five cup holders? Instead you could purchase a cup holder which mounted somewhere in your car via an adhesive or by a suction cup mount. Wherever you put it…. it was in the way. And the suction cup often lost its grip and spilled the liquid cargo all over the closest occupant.

The GPS PND

The GPS PND will follow history and suffer the same demise. The suction cup mounts don’t always work well and sometimes drop the expensive GPS. They are just plain ugly sitting up on top of the dash. Cords hang everywhere. You can have one cord going from the GPS to the cigarette lighter, dangling over the dash of the car and always in the way of the climate control knobs. There might be another cord going from the GPS to the car stereo so that you can get an acceptable sound quality from the MP3 player in the GPS which sounded like a good idea at the time until you heard the quality of the speaker. There might be yet another cable hanging out which receives traffic information which you stretch out across the dash so that it can get a good signal.

Thieves too love GPS devices since they are not integrated into the car. They are a quick snatch and easy to spot. If the GPS isn’t in plain sight, just look for the suction cup mount. Even if you take down the suction cup mount (and endure the pain of putting it back a few minutes later) thieves know to look for the discoloration left on the windshield let from the suction cup mount.

To prevent this from happening I can take down the mount, put the cords and mount in the glove compartment, clean the windshield, and try to fit the widescreen GPS into my pocket along with my car keys and mobile phone while hoping not to scratch, crack, or otherwise destroy the expensive GPS in my pocket…. If it doesn’t just fall out of the pocket anyway. Then when I get back to my car reassembly begins.

In Dash GPS Systems

Current in-dash GPS systems have their own issues. They are often substantially more expensive than a PND. The vast majority can’t be pre-programmed ahead of time from the comforts of your own home (although you can with some). It is rare for the vendor to provide timely map updates and when they do they are often expensive. Map updates and software updates can also be difficult to install since your computer and your car are not always close together. Some can only be updated at a dealership. The display is often further away from your view than where you can place a PND. And they often lack all but the most basic navigation features.

The Future of Auto GPS

Despite the shortcomings of the current in-dash systems, I still predict the death of the PND. Integrated systems have too much good to offer. Prices will come down as navigation becomes standard equipment in more automobiles. More car companies will start to partner with GPS companies to provide better interfaces as TomTom has done with the Eclipse/ program and with the TomTom Connect product. Garmin is in this game too with products like the VIB 10.

The GPS needs to become more tightly integrated with your car for better intelligence. If the GPS says you should “turn right ahead” and you put your blinker on, your GPS might want to give you a little nudge. If it is getting dark out and you turn your headlights on the GPS might switch to night mode for you. Getting low on gas? The GPS might calculate the most economical place to refill based on current gas prices, your route, and how far off the route each fill station is. While these items could be solved with an aftermarket device, they are better solved with an in-dash system.

Weekend warriors who only infrequently use GPS will still have options too. Instead of a PND they will be able to just use their mobile phone for directions. Most all mobile phone carriers now offer navigation features for either one time or monthly charges. Some are now offering it for free bundled with their data plans.

The PND will be around for several more years. And as the PND is now, it will continue to be the best way to add navigation to your car for a few more years. But it has inherent shortcomings that won’t likely be solved with technology.

3 Responses


  1. I particularly enjoyed this article. I am very familiar with OEM nav systems, as I do lots of dealership training on them for sales consultants. There are already some of the items that you mention that are being done by OEM in-dash nav units (Automatic screen dimming at night, for example), and, though most have some level of voice recognition, even that is becoming more sophisticated. Check out the pop-up nav system in the 2008 Cadillac CTS for a big leap for OEM systems’ voice recognition – vocal address entry while you are driving is now possible!

    I’m excited about the vocal address entry on the CTS, but what confounds (surprises?) me is that there are very few PNDs that offer any sort voice recognition. Typically OEM systems will automatically mute the audio system to provide a quieter environment, and that certainly helps. But with cars getting quieter, you’d think that more PND makers would include this feature. I know that Magellan and Tom Tom are starting to offer that feature, but does anybody else?? I’m in the market for a PND, and I hope that they don’t “die”, but since I see the benefits of Voice Recognition on a daily basis, I don’t want to consider any system that fails to offer it. Do you forsee other makers bringing it to market – and have I missed any makers that already have?

    Thanks for a great resource for the “GPS Nation”!

    Brian G. - December 30th, 2007
  2. Brian – I do foresee other GPS companies getting into voice recognition. I think the bigger companies are waiting until they can get it working “just right” before they release it. Currently it has a few kinks. Magellan only offers it for simple commands like “go home” or “nearest gas”. Garmin is offering it for address entry. You can read about the TomTom system in our 920T Review.

    Tim - January 1st, 2008
    • A very good article. Just a to let everyone know that there are OEM Nav sytems out there today that incorporate very sophisticated voice recognition technology. It’s mainly the premium brands that support e.g Jaguar and Land Rover models but it’s out there now.

      Agree that PND’s have a limited life, and can see a growing trend for manufacturer’s to support integrated solutions from the factory. I know this beacuse I work for an OEM Sat Nav manufacturer that supplies integrated solution to these manufacturer’s and as part of my role I look into what the competition are doing. I am fast drawing a similar conclusion to this article.

      Zill

      Zill - February 2nd, 2009



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