NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With Global Positioning System technologies showing up everywhere around us, it's better to stop being a curmudgeon and fighting the advancement of technology and, instead, think of ways to profit from it.
After all, GPS technology appears to be limitless in its navigation and location applications. It's even popping up in things that are not even technology-related. For instance, a startup recently unveiled a lightweight GPS tracker for pets called POD. The device attaches to a pet's collar, allowing the owner to instantly locate the pet anywhere around the globe.
LiveViewGPS, maker of Live Trac EZ, is another GPS-related company that is gaining media attention. Live Trac EZ helps companies track their mobile workforce and provides a way they can do this online. The list of GPS-related companies goes on and on, which just goes to show you how widely used this technology can be in the future.
Moreover, the fact that GPS technology has vast potential applications creates a huge financial opportunity for the companies involved in this business -- and investors too.
Garmin's gross margins have been increasing, but not without challenges. Its revenues have dipped over the past three years and Garmin's share price took a hit in 2008, due to increased competition in the navigational-device market and, of course, the economic meltdown.
However, one thing that hasn't been mentioned very much of late is how the company is steadily improving its profitability. It's an indication that the company is astute with its cash. This is always a sign of a company that could make a good long-term play.
Garmin has also been quietly diversifying its business of late, especially moving into the fitness arena where its devices will track, monitor and report health-related data for the user. This diversification has helped the company beat analysts' expectations by up to 15% as seen in its past four quarterly reports.
Garmin is also doing a nice job at growing its market reach, having purchased Fusion Entertainment, which provides integrated marine audio equipment.
Trimble Navigation (TRMB - Get Report) is another company to watch. Like Garmin, Trimble is diversified and has navigation products that are used in such industries as agriculture, construction & operations, natural resources, transportation and utilities. Its products are also used by governments.
One thing that makes this company attractive is the consistency with which it has been going about its business. As shown by the chart below, the company has been steadily growing both its revenue and gross margins.
Garmin, however, has seen more swings in its revenue and gross margin than Trimble. That's because Garmin faces more competition in the navigation market for the automotive and mobile industries -- the area where it receives the majority of its revenues. Trimble, on the other hand, receives a large slice of its business from the engineering and construction industries, where there is less competition.
Although these companies already own a significant portion of the navigational-device market, it's still important to keep tabs on other industry players -- including the ones that aren't publicly traded. One thing to bear in mind is that it doesn't seem to cost a fortune to set up a successful navigational-device business, considering that these companies are able to maintain high margins, without much increase in revenue. So with some funding, smaller companies could bring more competition.
Magellan is a name to watch. The company is gradually diversifying into other markets with its business. It currently has products in such areas as vehicle navigation, outdoor and fitness.
Long story short, if Garmin and Trimble continue to remain profitable and grow their businesses, enough to weather competitors, then they're worthy as long-term investment plays.
At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
TheStreet Ratings team rates GARMIN LTD as a Buy with a ratings score of A-. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate GARMIN LTD (GRMN) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, largely solid financial position with reasonable debt levels by most measures, expanding profit margins, increase in net income and notable return on equity. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company shows weak operating cash flow."
You can view the full analysis from the report here: GRMN Ratings Report