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.”
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.