After takeover, Navigon goes with Flow as Garmin goes 3D

Garmin's June acquisition of Navigon hasn't yet influenced their plans: they showed competing products at a joint event

Garmin and Navigon each launched devices at a joint news conference on Thursday, on the eve of the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) trade show in Berlin. The navigation companies are still following separate roadmaps, Garmin's June acquisition of its former rival too recent to influence their product plans.

Navigon showed three new product ranges, all running a new software platform it calls Flow. Inspired by smartphone and tablet OSes, it is controlled by taps and sweeping gestures to perform drag-and-drop editing of route plans or to scroll lists of destinations.

Flow also seeks to simplify control of the device by hiding little-used set-up options deeper in the menu structure, and putting more common functions a tap or two away. "Customers don't really use all functions," said Thiemo Weinschenk, Navigon's head of product management for personal navigation devices. "We put all navigation-relevant functions at one main level. Everything customers only need to change once or twice is in a submenu," he said.

Navigon has added a feature to its display of alternate routes calculated in response to real-time warnings of traffic delays: In addition to advising of the length of a detour, it also shows the time that can be saved. The software's navigation functions and map display are otherwise essentially unchanged from last year's software release, said Weinschenk.

Devices in the new 92 range have 5-inch capacitive touch screens, while those in the 72 range have less sensitive resistive touch screens of the same size. The 42 range is based on a 4.3-inch screen. The 92 range also includes a year's free access to six live data services, among them Google search, weather information, and safety camera locations. An additional year's access costs €49 (US$70).

Garmin, for its part, upgraded its navigation software with a feature it calls 3D Traffic -- probably the most confusing use of the term at a trade show rife with talk of 3D products.

For Garmin, the term means taking into account three kinds of traffic data in calculating routes: historic data, live data -- and projected future data, derived from the first two, according to Olaf Meng, automotive product manager at Garmin Germany.

The company has collected data from its customers on day-by-day and hour-by-hour variations in traffic on many roads, and incorporated that information into the digital maps included in its navigation devices. It then compares that with live traffic data from its partners -- Navteq in Germany, TrafficMaster in the U.K., and others elsewhere -- to calculate the route likely to be fastest, Meng said.

Regular updates to the historic traffic data are available as part of Garmin's offer of free map updates for the lifetime of its more recent devices. Customers can also buy live traffic apps for connected Garmin devices, including the PhotoLive Traffic Cameras App, which provides live pictures of traffic jams on the road ahead. The photo app is available now in Denmark, England, Finland, Norway and Sweden, with other countries planned, Garmin said.

Navigon and Garmin both buy their map data from Navteq, but there are other areas where they could work together. For now, the two develop their own hardware and software, including the all-important route-calculation engine, with each developing its own in house. Garmin also owns its own production facility in Taiwan, while Navigon outsources production. Representatives of both companies questioned at IFA said it was too early to talk about joint products, however.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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