GNSS Satellite (GIOVE-A)


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Sunday, 13 July 2008

GPS on Apple iPhone

Last week the new iPhone was (finally) introduced in Europe. It was introduced in many countries at the same time and there was a real "run" on the iPhones. This run was further enhanced by the rumour that Apple is fearing to have problems meeting the demand (or was that just some smart marking move to further push up the iPhone sales...)

Anyway, what I would like to dicuss here is that the Apple iPhone comes with an integrated GPS receiver and maps. This means that this phone is capable of replacing your car navigation system. So, considering that car navigation systems are at the €100 level and the iPhone is at a similar level, of course depending on how much the mobile phone companies subsidise it, buying a car navigation system does seem to be a "poor deal". The Apple iPhone is of course not the first and not the only phone with a GPS receiver. But since Apple currently is really "in" the phone may speed up a trend which has been developing over the last years.

The trend that is developing is that GPS positioning is becoming a common good. GPS chips have become so small and cheap that they can be put into any electronic device. The only issue with the GPS chips is the power consumption. But over the last couple of years there have been a lot of developments to counter the power consumption of the GPS chips. With a GPS chip in a device one can compute the position of this device at the few meter level. So now back to trend.
There are currently two "main stream" applications for GPS positions.
  1. Car navigation! I never had problems finding my way but having a GPS navigation device in my car has made finding my way even much more simpler.
  2. Geotagging of digital pictures, especially in relation with Google maps.
For these two applications one needs a GPS receiver, a computer, and a digital camera. Typically car navigation systems are a GPS receiver and a computer combined into one. Today most digital camera's do not (yet) have a GPS receiver incorporated and even if they would have one would still need a computer to upload the pictures to Google maps. So a device which combines a computer, digital camera, a GPS receiver, and some means of data communication would be ideal, right!? So clearly the trend is towards a (powerfull) mobile phone with a digitial camera (with 3 megabit pixel or more), and a GPS receiver. This device one could use for car navigation and for Geotagging!

Although the Apple iPhone is not the only device offering these capabilities, it will most likely be the top seller in this area. Apple is currently a very "hot", "hip", and "in" brand. So the iPhone has caused quite a bit of a hype. The fact that it comes with only a 2 megabit pixel camera will not keep many people from buying it!

The big losers in this game are the car navigation manufacturers. E.g. TomTom has been hit rather hard, just look at the developments of this company on the stock market. The interesting thing is that they started of focussing on the mobile internet market and were discussing joint ventures (in quite some detail) with both Ericsson and Nokia. Garmin has also been hit although they recognized these develpments a long time ago and launched their own mobile phones (but not very succesfully).

So in short currently Apple is the big winner in this market and the iPhone will certainly capture a significant part of the car navigation market. However, it will not be able to capture a significant share in the digital camera market. So any manufacturer who wants to "beat" the iPhone should focus on doing (much) better on the digital camera side of the device. Here I would expect Sony and/or Sony Ericsson to be able to play a role. Sony could make a really powerfull device out of a combination of its PSP and their Cybershot camera range. The Sony Ericsson joint venture also has all the building blocks (GPS, camera, mobile phone) to come up with a great device. However, from this trio Apple and Sony currently have a (much?) better brand name. Of course there are other potential players here, certainly Nokia and I would also expect something from LG.

In any case I will remain a happy user of GPS car navigation. At the moment with my "Medion" device but in the future most likely with a mobile phone. Furthermore, I am very curious how and where the geotagging applications will leads us in the near future. Geotagging offers a lot of fun applications but can also be used for really serious tracking of goods!

Stay on track!

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