Turn your smart phone into a Garmin navigator

New software on a microSD card hooks into certain handsets' GPS chips to add location-based services.

Garmin has a really small idea for making smart phones a whole lot smarter.

The GPS device maker announced Wednesday GPS software called Garmin Mobile XT. Embedded on a microSD card, the software gives the handset access to a slew of location-based services, such as maps, driving directions, real-time traffic and weather information, local gas prices and friend-finding tools.

The card is $99, a steal compared with the average Garmin device, which will run you anywhere from $200 to $1,000. And, of course, you don't need to ferry around a separate navigation device.

Mobile XT comes loaded with maps of the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico or Europe. It takes advantage of phones connected to the Web by routing to the location of a contact in the phone's address book or to a calendar appointment and can broadcast your location to any other phone or pinpoint the whereabouts of other Garmin Mobile XT users.

All of this map data is provided by Navteq, which was enticed into joining Nokia's ranks Monday in exchange for $8.1 billion. The acquisition by Nokia demonstrates the appeal and strategic importance of offering location-based services. What Garmin is trying to do by offering the Mobile XT hardware/software combination is along the lines of what Nokia is aspiring to do--namely, incorporate the convenience of navigation services into a single device that most everyone carries.

Though both are hardware makers that depend on software to make this happen, they are coming from opposite sides: Nokia is the world's No. 1 producer of cell phones, and Garmin is a stalwart of the personal-navigation industry. Though GPS devices won't fade away completely, Nokia's position in the handset business and control of Navteq give it an obvious advantage in this competition for consumers.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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