In a case of man bites dog, Google
Developers usually rush to Apple's iconic App Store as the Broadway of smartphone apps. However, Google's Latitude was initially rejected by Apple, forcing it to roll out for Android, Research in Motion's
The change of scenery did it good. Google claims that there are now more than 9 million active users checking in and knowing just where their friends are (at least those who want to let their friends know where they are). Hitting the cynical iPhone base after achieving critical mass will help it hit the ground running.
Taking all of the news in yesterday, my initial thoughts were about an unlikely company: Garmin
GPS-backed smartphones and Google's popular online maps have combined to all but paralyze Garmin.
The broken Wall Street darling once had investors singing along to the GPS champ's "give-a, give-a, give-a Garmin" ads to the tune of "Carol of the Bells" this time of year. These days, investors have had their bells rung instead.
In its latest quarter, Garmin's revenue slipped 11% as pro forma profitability plunged 31%. Garmin can point to strength in its Outdoor/Fitness, Aviation and Marine segments, but a 19% top-line decline in the Automotive/Mobile segment -- which still accounts for the majority of Garmin's revenue -- is enough to sink all ships.
When it comes to its flagship offering, Garmin hasn't been able to recover from the battering of GPS-enabled smartphones that provide mapping and even turn-by-turn navigation. The popularity of location-based services -- with folks using Latitude, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places to check in virtually for social bennies -- has raised the stakes in a game that Garmin was already losing. Folks are no longer replacing traditional GPS modules with smartphone apps; they now expect their contacts to also appear on these maps with convenient access tools.
How can Garmin compete? It may never be able to, now that free ad-supported models exist for folks who don't have to weigh initial cash investments for hardware they already carry around. However, if Garmin does have a chance, why doesn't it just belly up to the bar and acquire Foursquare?
Garmin won't have a problem with the price tag. It has nearly $1.9 billion in cash and marketable securities, and that money's going to waste in share buybacks at what in retrospect are inflated prices. It's already paying a generous dividend. It's time to go shopping.
Garmin isn't going away. It is profitable and growing in many second-tier categories. However, buying Foursquare would make Garmin relevant again. At the very least, the next time a "give-a Garmin" ad pops up it won't feel like a visit from the ghost of Christmas Past.
What would you do with Garmin's money? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz bought a Garmin nuvi several years ago, probably misplaced it, and hasn't missed it much. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.