But sometimes, Google's tactics just happen to fit that new market like a glove, and there's really no room for old-school incumbents anymore. That's where TomTom and Garmin
Google Maps for Android devices will now route you around heavy traffic. Drawing data from Department of Transportation sensors, and using GPS data from Android phones to assess car landspeed velocity (African or European?) along major roads, Google's maps have outlined traffic congestion in colorful graphics for a while now. But now, the navigation app takes advantage of that information to help drivers avoid nasty hotspots.
The massive and fast-growing installed base of Android phones makes Google Maps a dangerous competitor to any on-the-go information gadget. It also ensures a heavy flow of self-sourced traffic data.
It's not that the GPS guys aren't trying. Garmin's latest and greatest nuvi 2460LMT, for example, proudly boasts free map and traffic updates for life. In the case of Garmin, its premium subscriptions tap into databases from Nokia's
And those plans will cost you. XM NavTraffic on its own is $9.99 per month, or an extra $3.99 if you're an XM Radio subscriber. Most Garmin models still require an extra $50 to add premium traffic from Navteq.
Consumer-level GPS service has become a smartphone app, removing the need for a separate gadget. It's hard enough to beat "good enough but free" with high-priced premium alternatives, but it's even harder when the free stuff is at least as good as the premium version. Maybe even better.
Garmin has tried its hand at navigation-happy smartphones and failed miserably. Automotive and mobile sales are falling precipitously. It's a good thing the company is big in GPS devices for fitness, aviation, and marine applications, because the car-mounted market is moving to Mountain View.
Garmin will survive, but it's becoming a shadow of its former consumeristic self. The stock has lagged behind the S&P 500 over the last five years, and it would have lost you money if not for a generous dividend program. That's not changing anytime soon -- unless Garmin can reinvent itself.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.