So every time I drive anywhere in my car I have one continuing, consistent thought – I hate my GPS. I don’t hate it in a casual, mildly annoying way. I hate it in a deep, resentful, this-is-the-worst-UI-ever-manufactured sort of way. I hate the device not for the directions, but for the device experience. It’s poor, it’s clunky, and whoever built it never spent any time using it. I usually look at that little box hanging from a suction cup on my window and think, ‘mock me now, you’re days are over since Google released free GPS for the phone’.
It’s true, those GPS manufacturers are in a pretty bad place. TomTom, Garmin, and other GPS manufacturers had their share price free fall on Google’s free GPS announcement. Why would anyone pay for a device, if they could the same functionality in their phone for free?
I think there’s more than just paid vs. free. I think the difference lies in the difference in perspective a device company has from a service company. If you’re a device company your customer buys a ‘thing’. Once they buy that thing, they’re a cost to retain until they buy again; customer service, upgrades, anything. Garmin has changed nothing about my GPS since I bought it. In the three years we’ve owned that GPS Garmin has never evolved the experience. Sure they’ve fixed bugs, but I will never get a better experience until I buy another device.
It would be a completely different relationship if Garmin was a service company. A service mindset realizes that you only have a customer if you serve them. So beyond the service being free, Google will actually interact with the customers differently that Garmin. If I were to use a Google phone as a GPS, I have assurance that Google will constantly upgrade the service. They’ll be adding ads I’m sure, but I’d also expect them to improve screen flows and consistently refine the experience.
So when people talk about the dark days for physical GPS manufacturers, I don’t really think it’s a free vs. paid argument, I think it’s about how you serve your customer. I have a lot of confidence that if Garmin or any of those players really turned out a significantly better in-car GPS experience, they could hold on to their market share. That doesn’t mean adding photo albums, or fitness feaures…do you honestly think I’m going to go running with my car’s GPS? It means you have to be brilliant at the basics, that’s what people pay you for. Garmin sells a simple touchscreen device. They could deliver a software upgrade and overwhelm their entire customer base and make a big deal about it. If you’re a device company, you can’t see that. Upgrading the interface would just be foolish, you’ve already earned those customers. Something like that would just be a sunk cost.
Good luck guys. It’s going to be a long year.