Who needs a GPS? Is it the end of the road for GPS navigator devices, or do they still have a place in the overlander’s kit list? Long-time contributor and GPS expert Kevin Bolton gives his opinion…

A lot has changed in the GPS world in South Africa since I last wrote an article on the subject back in 2016 (with the exception of my January 2019 review of the Garmin GPS Map 276Cx, which I consider to be my ideal 4×4, general navigation and outdoor lifestyle device).

While back in SA from my work detail in Turkey, I decided to touch sides with a few people in the GPS navigation field. On my visits to a few retail outlets, there was a very obvious lack of street navigators (PNDs) on the shelves. Next, I noticed one could not find a TomTom street navigator anywhere. The Garmin street navigators were available but demand has clearly lapsed.

The reasons for this are two-fold. First, general street navigation in and around town is easily and accurately done on most cell phones (which are sold with numerous standard navigation apps). Second, a lot of new cars, including the less premium ones, are sold with built-in navigation systems.

Many in the industry believe that PND’s (Street Navigators) will not be around for much longer (two years at best), mainly because mobile phone navigation apps and in-car systems will get you around the town perfectly. In my opinion, however, these are not true navigation systems and they are definitely not ideal for the outdoor lifestyle.

The track log (or electronic breadcrumb) given on the Garmin street navigators is where the true value of these devices lie, showing the route you have just travelled. There is a story in a recent YOU magazine recounting how a couple visiting Italy drove round and round in circles without realising it. The breadcrumb feature on a proper GPS device would have showed them something was wrong.

Garmin-DriveSmart GPS

But back to Tom Tom PNDs and sports watches. Unable to find them on retail shelves, I discovered comments on the internet to the effect that the company no longer had a local head office or support centre. I contacted an overseas support centre who confirmed that Tom Tom no longer had an office in SA and had stopped PND and sports watch retail sales I also read that the Tom Tom Fleet management operation had been sold to Bridgestone.

I was able to confirm that Tom Tom Africa (the TomTom mapping company) is still in South Africa and growing from strength to strength. I have always considered their mapping to be among the best available for southern Africa.
On the Garmin front, the company management has changed in recent years with many people being promoted into senior positions in the broader company from the South African ranks.

Garmin are still going strong in the Outdoor, Fitness, Marine and Aviation fields – these markets are growing and sales have increased. The PND market is also down for Garmin, but there will have been some local boost resulting from the Tom Tom exit.

It’s this time of the year again when Garmin launches new products, among them the Garmin Drive 52 and Garmin DriveSmart 55 and 65 series devices (the new name for a Nuvi/PND device). This announcement was made on the Garmin American website, so it is not clear which devices will be released in South Africa. There is also talk of new and/or upgraded outdoor products.

Globally, the good news is that some of the new Garmin devices are not only receiving the American GPS signal and GLONASS (the Russian satellite navigation signal), but also the Galileo signal (the European satellite navigation signal). Having three satellite navigation systems will both improve the accuracy of the devices (to within 3-5 metres), and will give the signal more integrity and provide back-up if one system was to fail. To date I have not heard of the American signal failing but have heard of the Russian system failing on two occasions.

Meanwhile, happy GPS adventures.

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