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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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How to predict the future

Forecasting the future is about people, not technology, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers on a visit to the HP Innovation Lab in Barcelona

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When HP chief technology officer Shane Wall talks about the world three decades from now, the trends to steers clear of technology. That’s startling, given that he is also global head of HP Labs, the advanced research group within the world’s leading PC and printer manufacturer.

The Labs play host to numerous futuristic technologies, from 3D printing to virtual reality, so one would expect its vision of the future to be all about the gadget. Instead, it’s all about the people who will use the gadgets of the future.

HP CTO, Shane Wall

“When we think long term, we try to look 15-20, even 30 years into the future,” he said during the HP Innovation Summit at the HP Innovation Lab outside Barcelona, Spain, last week. “The way we do it is that we don’t start with technology. In HP Labs we invent all manner of incredible things in basic areas like biology, physics, and 3D printing. Those give us an idea, but we’re careful not to extrapolate those into the future, because by extrapolating you miss disruption.

“Instead, we look at people. We’ve done this for a number of years, looking every year at what’s accelerating, what’s gone slower, what’s new. We call these megatrends, that look at humanity rather than technology.

“In 2019 we stood back and took a different look at humanity. Everyone does market segmentation, analysing who the customer is and how they buy things. Instead, we looked at economic segmentation, we looked at where the money is moving in the next 30 years. We conducted numerous interviews with economists.”

The key megatrends identified by HP for the next three decades revolve around rapid urbanisation, changing demographics, hyper-globalisation, and accelerated innovation.

Rapid urbanisation

“We’re changing where we live,” said Wall. “People are moving out of rural areas and densifying cities. Cities themselves are getting bigger. In 1991, there were 10 megacities – defined as urban areas with 10-million people or more. By 2013, there were 41, by 2030, there will be over 60. Those cities are changing the very nature of everything we do, from the nature of work to the manner of how we do product development.”

The challenge of how to get goods into cities and waste out of them, he said, will result in a much greater focus on sustainability and energy management.

“That is going to change our go-to-market approach. Currently, we focus on countries as markets. Now we are seeing how important cities are becoming. In Nigeria, you may care about all of humanity, but for sales, you care about Lagos. In China, by 2035 any tier 3 city’s gross domestic product will pass that of the entire country of Sweden.”

Changing demographics

The very nature of the population is changing, said Wall. The impact of the post-Word War 2 population boom, resulting in the American concept of “baby boomers”, has now evolved into the “silver spenders”, who are living longer thanks to healthcare advances. They expect technology to address solutions to their toughest problems.

“On the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing a whole new generation, Gen Z, a generation like we’ve never seen, very focused on experiences and values, less focused on purchasing. They are also driving a change in our behaviour as businesses in terms of go-to-market. Understanding them deeply shapes the very nature of the enterprise.”

Hyper globalisation

Wall points out that, because we live in a world that is hyper-connected, we expect things to move at speed of light, while at the same time we expect it to be local. This has given rise to the concept of “glocalisation”.

“It is the expectation that things be both global and local, thanks to connectivity and mobile phones. Startups in emerging markets growing at 20% a year. It will be not only ideas that will move at this speed, but in the near future physical goods will also move at that speed.”

Accelerated innovation

Finally, technology must, by its very nature, play a key role.

“Tech itself is moving faster; it’s not just a perception. It started with Moore’s Law and the doubling of capacity on a transistor every two years. That happened at a systems level, and eventually, it brought artificial intelligence and machine learning into being. The algorithms were invented 10-20-30 years ago, but because of scale we have seen that only now are they becoming usable.”

The impact

What does this mean for consumers and businesses? On the one hand, it represents massive opportunity. On the other, even greater challenges.

“Over the next 30 years we will see incredible economic expansion, where the number of haves with the ability to spend on products we sell is going to grow at an incredible rate. The number of have-nots will shrink. But in order to meet that economic growth, we will see a 16% shortage in skilled labour, which means we must drive higher levels of automation to reach that growth.”

A big question is: What can prevent it from happening? The answer is highly relevant to South Africa.

“The challenges lie in basic infrastructure, like roads, buildings, and airports, but one thing at the root of it all is energy. When we look into the future, energy will become the critical piece: how well, how fast, we can build it out to meet those needs. In many economies, it is not being built out in a sustainable way. We need to change the equation.”

One of the solutions lies in 3D printing.

“Products can be designed digitally anywhere, and you can transmit the design on a digital supply chain, perhaps using blockchain and security tech, to cities where they are printed or manufactured on demand using 3D printers. That’s digital manufacturing and it’s already happening in some places today.

“Imagine you go to Amazon, you find a product, you edit it, personalise it, make it yours, and at the push of a button it is printed at a local manufacturing facility and shows up at your door two days later. It’s estimated that we can save 25% of our energy using digital instead of traditional manufacturing. Manufacturing itself takes one-third of energy use the in the world, so it will have a big impact on the world of the future.”

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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Google launches open-source cloud for enterprises

Vendor lock-in is a thing of the past for Google Cloud users, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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A new way for enterprises to use cloud, that prevents lock-in, has been unveiled by Google at its Cloud Next event in San Francisco.

“Cloud Next is held in San Francisco, London, and Tokyo to cater for the various markets,” said Mich Atagana, head of communications for Google Africa. “The event aims to bring together cloud developers to showcase the latest cloud. You can think of it as the Google IO event for executives.”

At a round table, a team of Googlers broke it down for those of us who aren’t cloud developers. 

“There’s a lot of technicality in this event, and a lot of the magic could be lost on those who aren’t developers,” said Atagana. “That’s why we’ve assembled our Cloud team to demystify the technicality.”

Shai Morgan, head of Google Cloud Sub Saharan Africa, said: “Cloud Next started four years ago. The first one hosted 3600 attendees, while this year we hosted about 30,000. This shows the way Google moves across the industry and how we address businesses. We’ve seen large growth in our partner ecosystem. It used to be very niche players, and now it’s big players like Accenture and Deloitte using Google Cloud.”

Daniel Acton, regional tech lead for Cloud at Google, said: “We had a new CEO come in [for Google Cloud] and he said it’s all fair and well to talk about the benefits of the cloud, but it’s not always attainable for business.”

This is where Google comes in. It launched new products to assist businesses in customising the cloud, the transition to cloud platforms, and how much must remain on-premise.

First up is Anthos, a management system for hybrid environments.

Acton said: “Anthos addresses the journey to the cloud. Businesses know that this journey doesn’t happen at the snap of the fingers. Executives have to make carefully calculated decisions on how to get there. There’s also lots of friction to get to the cloud, with a big factor being cloud vendor lock-in.”

“One way to move a business to the cloud is through a ‘lift and shift’, which is simply moving all the components of the business off-premise and on the cloud. This isn’t always what a business needs. Anthos deals with “infrastructure modernisation”, which is how we go from what we got to what we need. That’s because not everything should be in the cloud. 

“We give businesses that option for hybrid infrastructure. Anthos exists to help customers on their journey to the cloud. We realise this is a multi-cloud environment and provide our customers on-premise, a bridge, and computation on the cloud, for example.”

Morgan expanded on this and said: “It’s a bridge to the cloud and a very well managed bridge at that. For an enterprise customer, it’s complicated to move assets, manage skillsets, all while thinking about lock-in to a cloud vendor. Open source in an enterprise environment prevents lock-in. We work very closely with existing vendors, walking with them in their cloud journey but they can leave at any time.

“Anthos can run on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. That’s the beauty of Open Source, no lock-in. Containerising is a method that’s popular in the cloud developer environment but moving these containers across these environments is not trivial currently. Anthos allows this to happen.”

This brings the second major feature: serverless computing.

Containers and serverless computing go hand-in-hand. Acton explained that containers are like pre-setup computers, where a developer doesn’t have to spend time setting up a virtual environment and can focus on writing code, which ultimately delivers business value. He compared the proliferation of containers to Java, with the “write once, run anyway” phrase.

Serverless computing is split into many levels. At a low level, the Google App Engine allows developers to write code, and it takes care of hosting and handling the load. This is similar to the AWS Lambda service.

The enterprise nature of Google Cloud is not exclusive to large enterprises. 

“We address very small businesses as we treat our consumers,” said Morgan “They most likely use Gmail, Drive, Docs, and Calendar because those products are free and very easy to handle. Setting up an enterprise cloud environment is quite complicated. 

“If one invests enough time and energy, one can start a business that adds value and has its computing backed by Google Cloud.”

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