by Al Sacco

Garmin Touch Screen “nuvifone” Smartphone/GPS Navigator: A True Apple iPhone Rival?

Jan 31, 20083 mins
Data Center

Such mobile handset heavies as HTC, LG and Samsung have recently released touch-screen-based cellular phones in attempts to rival the popular iPhone, and they’ve all largely failed. (RIM, the popular BlackBerry maker, has also been rumored to be working on a touch screen device.) But now a newcomer to the mobile phone space is trying to give Apple a run for its money.

On Wednesday, Garmin International, known for its global positioning system (GPS) navigation devices, unveiled the nuvifone, a slim touch screen smartphone with its own unique Web browser, Wi-Fi, e-mail and text messaging applications, digital video camera and personal GPS navigator.

Garmin nuvifone smartphone and GPS navigator
Garmin nuvifone

The nuvifone is a quad-band, 3.5G mobile phone with a 3.5-inch touch screen, Garmin says. The smartphone runs on the company’s proprietary operating system, and it’s a GSM device, according to ZDNet.

Garmin’s specialty is clearly GPS, and navigation will likely be the nuvifone’s strong point. The iPhone currently lacks GPS—it does, however, use a location based service from Google that can determine users’ approximate locations based on nearby cell towers—and the nuvifone will certainly have a leg up on the iPhone as far as navigation goes. The nuvifone will have preloaded maps of North America, Eastern and Western Europe, or both, and it will offer turn-by-turn, voice prompted directions.

The phone also has a geotagging feature that lets users snap photos of locations and save the longitude and latitude coordinates for later navigational use. And it links directly to Google’s Panoramio picture sharing website, where millions of geo-located landmarks and sites can be accessed for directions, Garmin says. Geotagged images can also be forwarded along to others via email to distribute directions.

Garmin nuvifone home screen

But navigation won’t be enough to steal gadget lovers from Apple’s user base. The success of the iPhone has much to do with Apple’s impressive touch-screen based user interface (UI), and UI will no doubt prove to be a deciding factor in whether or not the nuvifone is a success or another touch-screen-flash-in-the-pan. Little information is currently available about the device’s UI beyond

the fact that it has three main icons on the phone screen—Call, Search and View Map—that give users one click access to its primary functions, as well as four secondary icons.

A few of the coolest nuvifone features are the device’s ability to employ Google’s local search, which lets users query the Web for businesses or other sites and then receive a variety of results with ratings based on current location and relevance. Directions can then be delivered to the device. And it’s “Where am I?” feature can display users’ longitude and latitude coordinates at any given time, show the nearest street address and intersection, as well as the closest gas or police stations and hospitals, Garmin says. Users who forget where they parked in a large parking lot can even use the feature to find their vehicles by determining the spot where the smartphone was last docked to the vehicle mount.

Garmin Plans to Enter Mobile Phone Market With “Nuvifone”

The Garmin Online service also offers nuvifone users constantly-updated information on traffic, gas costs, stocks, sports, news and weather, according to Garmin.

The device is expected to become available in the United States during the second half of 2008, but pricing details have not yet been released. Tech blog Electronista reports that the nuvifone will likely run on AT&T’s wireless network.