A Nexus GPS Would Be Google’s iPhone Moment

The consumer GPS industry is an archaic wasteland. Outside of your own cellphone, using in-car navigation either with an external or internal device is a nightmare. My Volvo S60′s in-car navigation is clunky and laggy like a Kindle. Even the most elegant of GPSes have sluggish interfaces that are more CompuServe than iOS, and tech sites like The Wirecutter shower them with praise.

After two four-hour excursions throughout the Maryland countryside this weekend, I can tell you that there is no excuse for how bad GPSes are. For some reason the entire industry has gotten away with what Nokia Nokia was getting away with before the iPhone – cheap, easy-to-mass-produce UIs with vague hardware upgrades every once in a while. No industry in today’s tech space should be forgiven for having a laggier UI than a fridge.

My solution? Google GOOG +0.12%. A 16GB Nexus 7 retails for $200. Cheap Android tablets are rapidly racing toward the $50 range – though one can’t guarantee quality at $64.99 – and I see no reason why Google hasn’t jumped into the space and squashed the competition. Google Maps navigator is twice the GPS that TomTom or Garmin GRMN -2.39% has created (I’ve used around 8 in the last year) and is better than anything I’ve seen inside a car outside of Elon Musk‘s Tesla. Android is cheap to build for, easily customizable (look at the Kindle Fire or any of the different open source ROMs like Cyanogen Mod and Jelly Beans).

Google could create a small tablet – 6 inches, perhaps – put a SIM card in there much like Apple AAPL -0.92% does for their cellular iPads – customize Android to focus on maps, and price the thing at $200. They could run a deal with Verizon like they do for the Chromebook – 100MB a month, for free, for two years.

To illustrate my point, look at this piece on blog ShinyShiny from 2007. In the year that the iPhone was released, bloggers were tugging at their collars over such beautiful phones as the LG enV. In comparison, while not as smooth as the current generation of iPhones, the iPhone 1 blew the competition out of the water with a natural, revolutionary UI.

That was the state of the industry before the iPhone: clunky UIs, simple and workmanlike devices.  The New York Times was writing about this in 2011. Android is at a stage when anyone – anyone could take an entire industry by storm.

Just like the GPS industry. Even updating a GPS is hell – plug it into your PC and wait for a gigabyte to plod onto your device, changing nothing in the process.

Forget Google Glass. Google, create a Nexus GPS. Make it cheap, make it smooth like the Nexus 4. Give it a strong GPS. Update it regularly, over-the-air. Use all of the storage so that the maps can be used offline (in tunnels, for example) and be updated over-the-air. And if it’s too difficult to run a cellular deal for free, let anyone put a SIM Card in it.



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