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Study: Smartphones to slay personal navigators

A market research firm predicts that smartphones will surpass personal navigation devices as navigators by 2014.

If you need a GPS device to get around, it's becoming more likely you'll get yourself a mobile phone with built-in satellite mapping than buy a standalone personal navigation device.

According to market research firm iSuppli, by 2011, virtually all smartphones will sport built-in GPS functionality, and by 2014 there might be no more market left for PNDs.

The Palm Pre is one smartphone that offers viable GPS navigation solutions. Dong Ngo/CNET

While this is a grand statement, it's quite credible. Just a year or two ago, it was hard to find a phone with built-in GPS functionality that actually worked reliably. Now look at my iPhone 3GS. I have all three major GPS applications on it, including TomTom, Navigon, and iGo My Way, and each can turn the phone into a dependable navigator. In addition, I am now testing the fourth one, CoPilot Live from ALK Technologies.

While I may be unusual--mostly because nobody needs more than one GPS app on his or her phone--the truth is that more and more phones offer the same feature and more people are using their phones as their primary GPS navigator while driving.

The Palm Pre, for example, also offers a great GPS navigator provided by TelNav, and my co-worker Joseph Kaminiski sure has made good use of it. Prior to the Pre, Joseph used the Treo 800 for the same purpose.

Nonetheless, for now, the market for PNDs is still going strong. According to iSuppli, PNDs will continue to lead the navigation market in 2009, with some 114 million sets predicted to be in use by the end of the year, compared with 57.8 million navigation-enabled smart phones.

New smartphone models are becoming increasingly suitable for use as navigators due to their larger displays, bigger internal storage, faster processors, and most importantly, the increased number of developers creating apps for them. As a matter of fact, all current navigation solutions on smartphones are applications developed by third parties.

iSuppli predicted that thanks to such factors, the number of people who use the iPhone alone as a navigator will increase from just 2 million in 2009 to 20 million by 2013.

Personally, however, I still believe there will be a market left for personal navigation devices. Though I have been making good use of my phone for getting me places, I still like a standalone GPS device for my car as sometimes while driving, my iPhone needs to be used as what it's designed to be: a phone.