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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Location 2.0

Probably my favourite purchase of 2005 was the TomTom Go500. This is a dedicated piece of kit for navigation and really is for use only in the car. It was the undoubted hot seller of Christmas 2005 and has a current market share of 57% accord to GfK (source: Tom Q1 2006 Results presentation) and with forecast units to shipped in 2006 to be 8 million up from 3.8m in 2005.

Is this a mobile product? I would argue - yes. It is used in the car, has bluetooth connectivity specifically designed for hands free calling and optional extras such as Speed Cameras, Traffic stats which can be downloaded over GPRS from the handset.

What is interesting about TomTom, apart from the obvious great success for all who invested in the stock in 2005, is:
  • despite the vast investment by network operators in embedding location technology in the network, TomTom uses the US Military GPS satellites for location determination as a better (cheaper, faster and more accurate) alternative;
  • the success of dedicated hardware + software rather than generalised software for PDAs and Mobile Phones (TomTom Sales for PDAs & Smartphones 2006 Q1 - €9m vs 2005 Q1 €16m); and
  • the use of cellular access technology as the dumbest of dumb pipes. User Forums even warn of the cost of downloading via GPRS as opposed to using your broadband connection and UBS port on the computer at home.
In other words, currently it looks like the operators implemented the wrong technology into their networks; dedicated devices are outselling the generalised devices that the mobile operators sell; and the operator pipes are not the recommended choice for data delivery.

If this is the way things are going in location services, the future is not looking bright for the mobile operators.

This gets even worse when you examine Google's recent efforts in location services. This is made even worse for the operators when you look at the integration Google is bring to mapping technologies, satelite imagery and even have a beta for phones

In terms of Vodafone, I think they have just abandoned the area and are going to leave it up to Google.

Unfortunately, I cannot see a scenario where the operators will get the impetus back from specialised companies like TomTom and more generalised web services companies like Google.

I think the mobile industry have missed the boat with location services and instead will be restricted to a dumb pipe, albeit charging higher tariffs than the fixed world. Even here the prices are rapidly falling as you can see with the new T-Mobile UK Mobile monthly 3G data charge of £20 for 2GB which should meet most peoples requirements.