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Dare To Be Different

Where would we be without street maps, paper or digital? But there are several street atlas publishers, and no one company has made itself into a definitive brand. So competitors don’t have the same problem they do with the iPod and the TomTom – that of convincing prospective buyers that while they may want a digital music player or navigation device they definitely don’t want the aspirational or best known version.

The problem for iPod and TomTom competitors is getting their innovations right. Samsung’s very iPod like YP-Z5 looks lovely and produces nice enough sound. Its control system is the really innovative part, but I was not alone in finding it rather obtuse, detracting from what is otherwise a neat little player.

Sandisk’s new e270, which I’ve had for just a few days, is another iPod lookalike, but on the face of a couple of days of experience it looks like making a better fist of things. Both the software and hardware parts of its user interface are intuitive to get to grips with. Prolonged testing will tell me more, but it looks as though Sandisk may have dealt with usability and generally quality and now just has to fight the iPod hegemony.

On the navigation front Navman’s iCN 550 system has a couple of hardware buttons which when pressed show on screen the nearest fuel stations and parking locations. It is a very simple idea, but extremely neat and solves very specific problems.

Navman’s latest attempt to differentiate comes in their new iCN 720 which I’m in the process of reviewing for TrustedReviews now. A built in camera shoots a still which is saved with embedded location information. You can share this with others by email or via a specially produced Web site. Navman is committed to the idea for future products, which it calls NavPix. I’m not yet convinced it is compelling, or that it will turn Navman devices into aspirational TomTom beating products, but it is an innovation no other navigation system provides.

I’m sure everyone reading this can come up with more examples of kit which takes a popular basic idea and adds what is hoped will be a no-brainer extension. Sometimes these ideas work, sometimes they don’t. But even with the best enhancements in the world, when your competition is a TomTom or an iPod, the tasks of selling the kit is rather more complicated than just having a great device.

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