With phone makers invading its turf, Garmin ( GRMN) hopes to get a bigger fix on the global mapping business. Just as music phone makers forced Apple ( AAPL) to jump into the wireless arena, Apple and Nokia's ( NOK) pending entry into navigation has GPS giant Garmin plotting its own defensive move. The $3.3 billion hostile bid to wrestle Dutch map maker Tele Atlas away from rival TomTom, suggests Garmin run as purely a GPS device maker may be headed in a new direction. Navigation
has popped up on the horizon as a huge new segment in consumer tech, and the big players are now picking partners in an effort to consolidate the growth opportunity down the road. Because of the E911 rules that required telcos to put location systems in mobile phone, there is suddenly a market for selling users services like turn-by-turn driving directions. "Garmin is seeing competition from handsets in the U.S., but Europe is still miles behind," says IAG Research's Roger Entner. But that won't necessarily be true for long. Nearly all new cell phones will have global positioning chips that use satellite and wireless tower signals to pinpoint locations. As TheStreet.com first reported Apple's next version of the iPhone will include assisted GPS capability provided by chipmaker Broadcom ( BRCM). And No. 1 handset maker Nokia, which already has GPS services on its high-end N95 phone, proclaimed earlier this month after making a $8.1 billion offer for Navteq ( NVT), that it was a "hardware company with software and services."
Garmin may need to plot its own wireless roadmap. "My sense is that they need to have deals with the wireless carriers or manufacturers," says one Wall Street observer. "But they probably don't need to be in the business themselves."