Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Garmin and Asus: here comes the Nuvifone (finally)

One device that I have been waiting for, with some trepidation, is the Garmin Nuvifone. A very interesting concept for a smartphone, coming from a navigation company. In a word, a smartphone that is a personal navigation device (PND) for your car, that you snap out of its in-car holder when you leave the car. Since it is a navigator, it is well designed to guide you to a restaurant and share your location with your friends. On top of it, it is a smartphone with phone capabilities and a camera, messaging, browsing and calendaring.

What is unique about this device is that it is not a smartphone with some mapping capabilities (like all the others). It is a navigation device with some smartphone capabilities. It takes the smartphone paradigm and turns it upside down.

Garmin announced it (with some fanfare) over a year ago in January 2008. I have been waiting and waiting and waiting, but the device never materialized. I always wondered if they were going to launch it with a carrier in the US, or just as a standalone product ("put in your SIM card and go"). The latter being an option not in the US, but a pretty good one in Europe.

Today, they announced the device is coming out at MWC in Barcelona (which is shaping up as a cool event) together with Asus. That's big news. Asus is the device manufacturer behind the Nuvifone, so it is no surprise. But the announcement puts Asus on the front seat with Garmin. They share the risk, the share the reward.

For Asus, is a low-risk way to get into the smartphone market with its brand (it will always be a Garmin device for the public). For Garmin, it is a way to have someone to lean on, with a distribution channel in Asia, and lower the risk (cost, I would assume) in the short term in exchange for a lower upside (if the device turns out to be wildly successful).

I found this move to be a smart one. This is 2009, after all. These days, you see everyone making careful moves. Nobody is coming out bold. Everyone is trying to play safe. Share the risk, share the reward. Join forces. The world is tough out there...