TomTom co-founder: 'Satnav market not as big as it once was' - so what comes next?
That question keeps rearing its head again and again: in the age of the GPS-capable smartphone, is there any need for dedicated satnav devices any more? Corrine Vigreux, TomTom co-founder and managing director of consumer certainly seems to think so.
"Well if there wasn't [a market] we would have found out - we would not be sat here saying anything," she muses.
At the launch of TomTom's latest products in Amsterdam, Netherlands - which included updates to the Go satnav series - Pocket-lint sat down with the consumer boss to see where navigation, GPS and the brand go next.
"There was a time when modems were outside of PCs and then the modem went into PCs and then the modem industry disappeared over night. In replacement technology when one technology cannibalises another the decline is very fast, very rapid and very brutal. In our category we [TomTom] actually we sold more products last year in that UK than the year before. But we were faced with a lot of people still preferring to have PND over the smartphone because at the end of the day it's a form factor that still works for certain people."
The latest TomTom Go devices utilise data - whether from a smartphone Bluetooth sync feature or via a built-in SIM - pull in live traffic to update routes in real time. Indeed rather than being replaced by the smartphone, TomTom seems to be embracing the smartphone as an enhancement device.
"You need real time information. You want all these things as they happen: 'this tunnel is now closed now and I get it on my phone, now on my PND [personal navigation device]. We're getting there with Bluetooth and then there are technologies especially for online and offline - and our maps system is online and [uses] modification patches so you get instant updates."
But it's not entirely rosy: "Now it [satnav] is not as big as it once was," confesses Vigreux. "We sold an awful lot [of products already] and today you can get it [navigation] in different ways."
Which seems like the perfect point for a company to diversify and take their brand to the next level. The Amsterdam product launch's main focus was on the introduction of two new GPS sports watches - the Runner and the Multi-Sport - but TomTom is already in the app space where it offers some of its services to other devices. We queried whether these measure are a damage limitation; a move that could see TomTom's core business become fitness related.
"It [fitness] will be a business. To be honest navigation will always be our major business because that's what we are. Today we start with watches, but we have… there will be other things. But it won't replace navigation - it will be a complement to that."
What, exactly, those products will be we couldn't quite prize from Vigreux's mind. She won't budge under the pressure, but she does reveal a snippet of what the company has been looking into, and it sounds as though fitness is key for the company in the future:
"Just imagine technology that helps you do things that help you know more about yourself. To measure how much energy you use, how much you do, how much you consume in terms of energy. People don't always know that. If I look at a watch and go, 'ok, so you've burnt 300 calories' - what is 300 calories? It's a croissant, some french fries, a pint? We all have different references - but that's the information that will help you just control things better. There are already a lot of things [products]; a lot of innovation - a company like Fitbit for example."
So where does navigation go next? Is it all about brand diversification? If GPS devices, particularly Personal Navigation Devices, are using smartphones to facilitate their functionality for the better - the very devices that could be their comeuppance - then doesn't that just mean that they're facilitating their own demise?
We don't think that navigation kit will got the way of the dial-up modem, but in the same way smartphones have sucked up lower spec compact camera sales, we suspect much the same will happen in this market sector too.