Manufacturers of satellite navigation devices are loading up their gadgets with features from audio sightseeing guides to three-dimensional city views as they seek to differentiate themselves in a crowded market.
Garmin, which is battling TomTom for leadership in the global portable navigation market, announced on Friday it would launch a pink device in time for Christmas to lure young female shoppers.
The market is now mature enough that you can develop products targeted at segments, Clive Taylor, European product director for Garmin, said at Europe's biggest consumer electronics fair IFA in Berlin.
Germany's Navigon showed a new routefinder with a white casing, taking a cue from Apple's success with the iPod design, saying the device would be small and light enough to be comfortably carried around in a handbag.
The market for portable navigation devices has grown in the past few years, and TomTom estimates the European and North American market together at 21 million units this year.
Most navigation devices sell for between $300 and $1,000.
TomTom, which pioneered portable navigation devices that sell for a fraction of what systems built into a car cost, still dominates the European market with a 50 percent share, but its success has attracted competitors.
Navigon board member Andreas Westhoff said consumers shopping for a routefinder regularly encounter rows of identical-looking devices, but a white device would be noticed.
TomTom said many buyers, however, still focused on features.
Design is critical, but it needs to be complemented by innovation, a TomTom spokesman said.
The company launched a new flagship product at IFA that includes speech recognition for entering the destination address and a motion sensor to calculate the car's position even if it temporarily loses the satellite signal.
Not everyone is convinced, however, that such extras are worth paying more for.
Who needs all these extra features? said Berlin taxi driver Hans, 62, adding he was very happy with the Tomtom device he bought a year ago for 350 euros.
A device under the Merian travel guide brand, priced at the top end of the market at about 780 euros ($1,070), features detailed descriptions of tourist sites and landmarks, some even with audio recordings. It is targeted at the German market.
MyGuide, acquired this week by a group of investors, will follow a strategy to turn routefinders into connected devices that display geographic information available on the Internet.
Dutch investor Roel Pieper, chairman of the board of Road Group that bought MyGuide, said the next step was to take the devices online because they currently mostly feature maps and other points of interest data that is updated infrequently.
This could turn navigation devices into a new type of Web browser, a Google search engine but from a geographic perspective, Pieper said, adding MyGuide will offer such interactive devices as early as next year.
He said he was hoping to partner with Google to bring interactive services to navigation devices.
Mobile phone makers such as Nokia are already integrating global positioning (GPS) chips into phones, laying the groundwork for using geographic search such as Google Maps on the go.
But Pieper said he believed navigation devices will have an edge over mobile phones because of bigger displays and more ease of use even though it would mean consumers have to carry yet another electronic gadget around.