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Garmin navigates itself back to the future

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Before the explosion of smartphone mapping apps, Garmin was synonymous with navigation. Now it is fighting its way back to relevance, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Does anyone remember the PND? That stands for personal navigational device, and it was a standard accessory bought by drivers of mid- to upper-end vehicles. Typically, it was mounted on the inside of the windscreen via a suction cup. Does that ring a bell?

The dominant brands providing these clunky tools were Garmin and TomTom, and they became synonymous with the idea of maps going digital. But that was before the smartphone, and in the last seven years the global PND market  has plummeted.

From 40-million sales in each of 2008 and 2009, according to Berg Insight, it will have dropped to 10-million by 2019. GfK puts the 2014 total at 22-million – down by 21 per cent from 2013. The cause is obvious: by 2013, the monthly active user base for navigation apps on smartphones had reached 180-million.

How, then, do the likes of Garmin and TomTom survive? It’s obvious but hardly simple: they have to reinvent themselves, and they have to reinvent every category in which they operate.

TomTom has put the emphasis on its mapping solutions, driven by telematics and traffic data. Its fleet management solution is used by around 600 000 professional drivers. Its mapping systems are built into on-board vehicle navigation systems, and power Apple Maps as well as Uber.

Garmin, on the other hand, has set out to reinvent the categories for which it is already well-known in the consumer market. Its sports watches and activity trackers are among the most highly rated in this segment and it has relaunched its fitness product range with the vivo sub-brand.

It includes the vivofit fitness band and vivosmart HR activity tracker, which give the market leaders, the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR, a metaphorical and physical run for their money. The main difference is that, rather than focus on activity in itself, they focus on intensity of activity. It is no coincidence that the Vitality fitness rewards programme run by Discovery Health is also making a transition from rewarding activity to rewarding intensity of activity.

“The focus has moved away from steps and to things like intensity minutes,” says Marc Bainbridge, category manager for fitness and outdoor products at Garmin Southern Africa. “The movement to get people moving has been great, but now there’s a disconnect. Intensity minutes will drive people to get the real benefits.”

There is a strong South African connection in Garmin’s sports range. Last year it bought the world’s first cycling radar, which warns of cars approaching from behind, from Stellenbosch-based start-up iKubu. It rebranded it as the Varia Rearview Bike Radar and integrated it tightly into Garmin’s Edge range of cycling computers and the Varia head unit.

“You need so much experience to back such a device and to make it into a form factor that you can take to world markets,” says Walter Mech, CEO of Garmin for Sub-Saharan Africa. He points out that the investment is not unusual. Garmin has become world leader in niche recreational areas through similar acquisitions, like the compass manufacturer Nexus and boat communications brand Fusion, which has given It PND-like dominance in the marine market.

“Getting all these things to talk to each other is where Garmin is a specialist and continues to develop new markets,” says Mech. “You have to innovate continually, otherwise you’re stuck with three models of a single device. Our strength lies in our diversification.”

Reinventing the navigational device

And now it is the turn of the PND to be reinvented. Garmin has dropped the Nuvi name and rebranded its devices as the Drive series, which it says is “specifically designed to help increase driver’s awareness”. The Drive, DriveSmart, DriveAssist and DriveLuxe each take the concept to higher levels.

The features that differentiate these devices may be found individually in a range of apps and gadgets, but are rarely well-integrated.  It starts with warnings for upcoming sharp curves, alerts for users driving the wrong-way on a one-way street, and fast-approaching traffic jam notifications, and culminates in fatigue warning alerts on long journeys, with suggestions for potential break times and available rest areas.

“The Nuvi brand was seven or eight years old,” says Mathys Thompson, automotive product manager at Garmin Southern Africa. “Because navigation has become so commercialised and everyone has got it on smartphones, we had to find something to make it relevant again.”

The basic devices, with a range comprising the Drive 40, 50 and 60, replace the entry-level Nuvi units. The more advanced DriveSmart introduces Bluetooth, traffic smart notifications, calendar alerts, a social media feed and WhatsApp integration.

The DriveAssist includes a dashcam, which adds lane change warnings to the mix, along with Go Alert for when you stop at a traffic light and the camera picks up traffic in front is moving while you remain stationary. Finally, the DriveLux offers a premium metal housing and capacitive touch screen.

The functionality, says Thompson, will keep evolving in ways that smartphones can’t match.

“We are now integrating the devices with a backup camera. People are demanding an after-market backup camera, meaning one you can fit to the vehicle after you’ve bought it, allowing you to see behind the vehicle when in reverse. The BC 30 Wireless Backup camera comes with a transmitter for the back of the car and a receiver that plugs into the Drive device.”

Thompson offers one simple but massive benefit of the way Garmin is navigating itself back to the future: “The most exciting development of the new Garmin Drive series is that the driver awareness features typically seen in luxury vehicles are now accessible as an aftermarket solution for all drivers.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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As selfie cameras rise, so must selfie etiquette

Selfies were once a sign of narcissism or self-obsession. Now they are the new normal, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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You can blame Oxford Dictionaries for making the “selfie” respectable. After all, being named Word of the Year, as it was in 2013, does tend to soften some of the self-consciousness in this most self-conscious of actions.

Once seen as a symbol of narcissism and self-obsession, it is now the new normal, to the extent that most smartphones are sold on the basis of the front camera. Or, as that feature is now almost universally named by manufacturers, the “selfie camera”.

I was one of the hold-outs, having a near-allergy to the selfie. I still resist, but succumb more often than I would like. The reason for continued resistance is that it remains a big leap from the word becoming respectable to the action itself shedding its narcissistic image. 

For most, it’s already happened, and for that you can blame Ellen DeGeneres. She  choreographed the most famous group selfie yet at the 2014 Oscars, when she roped a bunch of actors into a group selfie, using the then-new Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. Her tweet of the photo became what was then the most retweeted posting ever on Twitter, and was estimated to have been worth a million dollars in marketing value to Samsung.

Ironically, it was Samsung’s up-and-coming challenger, Huawei, that came up with a new word for this type of selfie: the “groufie”. Thanks to an 8 Megapixel front camera on the new Huawei Ascend P7 camera that year which took the highest quality selfies – and groufies – possible on a smartphone at the time.

It didn’t end there, and selfies and groufies have morphed into variations like selfscapes (selfie in a landscape), skyfies (selfies from the air, using remote controlled devices) and jerkies (selfies to make an idiot out of yourself). I invented all of those on the fly, so it’s easy to imagine a new word emerging for every type of selfie.

Continue reading about selfie improvements through the years.

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Mickey’s 90th for SA

Disney Africa announced the local launch of the Mickey the True Original campaign, joining the global festivities honouring 9 decades of Mickey Mouse, his heritage, personality and status as a pop-culture icon.

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As 18 November 2018 marks 90 years since his first appearance in Steamboat Willie in November 1928, a series of world-wide celebrations will be taking place this year and South Africa is no different.

The campaign will come to life with engaging content and events that embrace Mickey’s impact on the past, present and future. The local festivities kick off in earnest this month, leading up to Mickey’s 90th anniversary on 18 November 2018 and beyond:

  • An exclusive local design project where ten highly talented South African artists will apply their own inspiration and artistic interpretation on 6-foot Mickey Mouse statues.
  • Once revealed to the public, the statues will form part of the Mickey the True Original South African Exhibition, inspired by Mickey’s status as a ‘true original’ and his global impact on popular culture. The exhibition will travel to 3 cities and delight fans and families alike as they journey with Mickey over the years. Featuring 4 sections highlighting Mickey’s innovation, his evolution, influence on fashion and also pop culture, the exhibition is in collaboration with Samsung and Edgars, and will visit:

o   Sandton City, Centre Court: 28 September – 14 October

o   Gateway Theatre of Shopping, Expo Explore Court: 19 October – 11 November

o   Canal Walk Shopping Centre. Centre Court: 16 November – 26 November

  • Samsung continues their collaboration with Disney as they honour Mickey’s 90th anniversary nationally at all Samsung and Edgars Stores. Entitled Unlocking the Imagination, fans are encouraged to visit these stores, take a selfie with a giant Mickey plush toy using their Samsung Galaxy Note9 and stand a chance to win not only a giant Mickey plush, but also an international family trip. Visit www.Samsung.com for more information
  • Mickey’s 90th Spectacular, a two-hour prime-time special, will be screened on M-Net 101 later this year. The elegant affair will feature star-studded musical performances, moving tributes and never-before-seen short films. Superstars from music, film and television will join the birthday fun for the internationally beloved character.
  • In addition, look out for special programming on Mickey’s birthday (18 November) across Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303), Disney XD (DStv, Channel 304) and Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309).
  • In retailers, Edgars will be stocking a complete collection of trendy fashion, accessories and footwear for the whole family, inspired entirely by Mickey Mouse.
  • Mickey will be the central theme of an in-store campaign nationwide this November and December, with brand new products, apparel, toys, as well as titles from Disney Publishing Worldwide, including books, arts & crafts and comics
  • Discovery Vitality and Disney are celebrating healthy, happy families this festive season by offering helpful and exciting tips and tricks on how to eat nutritious, yet delicious, foods, all inspired by Mickey. There’s also a trip to Disneyland Paris up for grabs. Log on to www.discovery.co.za/vitality for information.
  • And much more – check the press for updates

“Binding generations together more than any other animated character, Mickey Mouse is the “True Original” who reminds people of all ages of the benefits of laughter, optimism and hope,” says Christine Service, Senior Vice President and Country Manager of The Walt Disney Company Africa. “With his universal appeal and ability to emotionally connect with generations all over the world, no other character quite occupies a similar space in the hearts and minds of a global fan base and we are thrilled to be sharing these local festivities.”

Mickey’s birthday is celebrated in honour of the release of his first theatrical film, Steamboat Willie, on 18th November 1928, at the Colony Theatre in New York City. Since then, he has starred in more than 100 cartoons and can currently be seen on Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303) in the Mickey Mouse cartoon series and on Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309) in Mickey and the Roadster Racers.

South African fans are encouraged to share their Mickey Mouse moments on social media using the hashtag#Mickey90Africa.

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