Designing Presence: The many problems with Garmin’s GPS ecosystem

I’ve been using a Garmin 76CS handheld GPS for two years for motorcycle touring. For the kind of riding we do, which is a on lot smaller highways and roads, the interstate only mapping software pre-installed on the GPS is not sufficient. Garmin currently has a sweet business model in charging another $150 for a CD of comprehensive mapping data. They release a new CD every two years or so and — as far as I know — offer no upgrade discount to owners of the previous version. The moment the CD is released it’s out of date. Change is happening every day, but data on a disc is fixed in time the moment the CD is burned, packaged and distributed.

To plan a route using the City Select data, Garmin provides “MapSource” software. It is some of the most frustrating software I have ever used. My initial trip planning process is done online using Google or Yahoo maps and various web sites to determine travel distances, motels, highway construction, fuel stops, etc. These online mapping tools are easy and intuitive (and google maps just got easier because it now allows you to drag and relocate a travel path). They require no user instructions. They just work.

Contrast this to building a trip with MapSource. The software is an unintuitive frustrating mess. Something as simple as routing a day’s journey turns into a 20 minute time suck because I can’t figure out how to “end” the route. One would think clicking on “new route” and then clicking the motel’s address from the previous nights route would initiate a new route from that location. But several times I got to the end of the the “new route” only to see that somehow these miles were added to the previous days route. So instead of having two routes of 300 miles, I had one route of 600. Why? It just shouldn’t be hard for the user to define one route from another. This is one example of at least 10 simple flaws in the user interface of this software. Garmin, did you perform any usability testing before releasing this product? Or do you just expect me to use the owners manual each time? I read it last year and the year before, but I shouldn’t have to read it a third time. I don’t have to with Google. It just works. It’s easy.

I can’t wait for GPS technology to become standard on cell phone. I can’t wait for the day that I can save the route I just built on Google maps on my desktop or laptop, then access the route through my cell phone using mobile Google maps and GPS. Want to know if there’s a Starbucks nearby? Yes, I can do that using my current Garmin 76CS and the $150 City Map data, but it’s out of date. Starbucks may have built 3 new stores since the CD was released. With my GPS enabled cell phone, I’ll be able to do a web search for Starbucks, click a map link and have the GPS lock in to the data point and guide me there — relevent information in an easy format for me to use literally on the fly. Ready for a motorcycle break and want to know if there’s a park nearby? Garmin breaks that kind of data into a category that seems to be mostly populated with churchs and schools. The day will come when I’ll be able to do a Google seach (or use some other cool mobile software) for a local park, get the location via Google maps and again, have my cell phone GPS guide me there. When that day comes — and my guess is we’re a couple of years away — Garmin’s business model is going to undergo a serious hit on several fronts. They won’t be able to hide behind badly designed software any longer, they won’t be able to charge ridiculous sums for aggregating data onto a CD, and come to think of it, they probably won’t be able to charge $400 for a hand held device that only accesses proprietary data either. Did I say I can’t wait?

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3 Comments

  1. Koa Keng Woo said,

    July 31, 2008 at 3:52 am

    I have bought a Garmin Nuvi from a Singapore dealer not long ago. Before I bought that, I have read a lot of Reviews from GPS webs and understand that the Garmin Nuvi 760 is another good performer after the Nuvi 660 which had a SIRF Star III chips. From many reviews of the US. they also stated that the Nuvi 760 had a SIRF Star III. But the GPS I bought was not labelled that it had a SIRF Star III. When emailed to Garmin to ascertain whether this GPS I bought has a SIRF Star III but I received no reply from them.
    As Garmin is a big company and a leader of manufacturing GPS, such enquiry is very easily answered.

  2. GarminGPS said,

    June 20, 2009 at 2:46 am

    If you are looking your new GPS navigator Store. I recommend you to find your new Garmin GPS Store at our website store. Anyway, you may find product spec., echnical review, accessories and maps update for Garmin 780,765T,755T,255W,360,205W,250,260,260W,265WT,270,760 and others Garmin nuvi information at http://garmingps.geogats.com/garmin-store/

  3. June 30, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Garmin Nuvi 265WT
    Garmin’s nüvi 265WT improves upon its 200-series predecessors by adding free real-time traffic updates from Navteq (for the life of the device) as well as Bluetooth connectivity to your cell phone. Other significant improvements in the 2×5 series include a predictive technology that provides faster satellite lock, a redesigned screen with more information, terrain maps, and an exciting new photo navigation feature. The 265WT provides complete maps for North America and the handy Text-to-Speech feature, so you get turn-by-turn spoken directions with the real names of streets (e.g. “turn left in 50 feet at Nebraska Way”, rather than merely “turn left in 50 feet”).


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