The popularity of smartphones and the emergence of new applications are expected to revive Chinaâs GPS phone industry. The export sector, in particular, suffered a slight setback in past months. It has been beset with price, software and hardware limitations, because of which many suppliers experienced a decline in their revenue.
The line, however, has been gaining attention as more companies, attracted by recent technological advancements, move toward smartphones and away from the congested feature phones segment. Since the first half of 2008, makers in China offering smartphones have more than doubled in number. By 2014, 90 percent of these products sold worldwide will have GPS chipsets, according to ABI Research.
With their large screen, open-source platform and powerful CPU, smartphones have a natural capability to support GPS functions. They can easily display a digital map, support navigation software and process the large volume of data needed for accurate positioning and navigating. New designs from major suppliers, in fact, integrate GPS as a regular specification.
The latest location-based services are also expected to boost demand in the GPS handsets industry. A collaborative effort among telecom carriers, mobile phone makers and GPS chip providers has expanded LBS applications and increased demand for models that support these functions.
Among the services currently available are location search, advertisement and location-based reminder. v Further, the two main providers of GPS ICs for mobile phones, SiRF and U-blox, continue improving their chipsets and modules by enhancing the algorithm and antiinterference, and reducing power consumption.
Some mobile phone chip suppliers, including TI, Hisilicon and Qualcomm, have also introduced assisted GPS or A-GPS technology in their baseband chip or CPU to heighten user experience.
In previous years, several factors prevented wider adoption of GPS phones. Foremost of these is price, particularly since the many China-made mobile phones are sold domestically or exported to markets with developing economies.
Despite being dubbed as the hottest application in mobile communication two years ago, GPS-enabled handsets remained expensive compared with other handset types. While a touchscreen unit is quoted at $40 and a mobile TV phone $60, a low-end GPS model is at least $220.
Software is another factor hindering utilization. Because of the similarities in the design of handsets, software applications have become the primary differentiators. Ideally, programs loaded into GPS phones should suit the low-speed movement of human users and must be customized for mobile communication. This, in essence, should not match the platforms used in GPS receivers created specifically for vehicles.
Most of the GPS software in the market, including those used for mobile phones, however, is supplied by car navigation companies specializing in high-speed applications. As such, some programs become prone to error and yield inaccurate results when installed on handsets.
In addition, GPS phones have their own limitations. Unlike receivers, GPS handsets work mainly as an instrument for voice calls, short messaging and multimedia. They are designed to pick up clear signals from a base station.
When the GPS function is integrated, however, the signal comes from a satellite at a strength that is only 0.1 percent of a cellular networkâs, thereby creating more interference.
Most GPS models from China suppliers are also feature phones, which have small form factors and low-cost chipsets that are not ideal for navigation. Nevertheless, industry players remain optimistic and are on the lookout for breakthroughs in the line.
Companies are also improving their productsâ selling points. Aside from offering models with music playback, a high-resolution camera and slim design, they are pushing units with multitouch, GPS navigator and G-sensor.
In 2008, global shipments of GPS-enabled GSM/WCDMA handsets more than doubled YoY, with volume reaching 78 million units for a CAGR of about 47 percent. GPS phone shipments will increase to 770 million units by 2014, according to Berg Insight.
Of the two key trends in GPS phones, the first is geared toward the development of hardware. This applies particularly in connection with high sensitivity, low power consumption, larger display and multimode support for GPS, GNSS, Galileo and Beidou.
The other involves the development of mobile phonebased services, including open intelligent operating systems and LBS. In line with this, makers are working on integrating the advantages of GPS receivers into handsets. Some of these are multimap support, 3D mapping, voice navigation and compass.
GPS phones are also gaining from advancements in other aspects of the system such as free open-source OS. An example of this is Googleâs Android platform, which provides application-programming interface that enables software developers to create location-based content for mobile devices.
Feature phones running on an MTK high-end platform such as MT6239 are classified as low-end units. They are compatible with GSM 850/900M/DCS1, 800M/PCS1 and 900M EDGE networks. Typically equipped with 2.4 to 2.8in TFT screens and 5MP cameras, models are actually the dual-SIM dual-standby type that support GPS, Java, Bluetooth, G-sensor, Wi-Fi and multimedia functions.
They are quoted from $100 to $130. Models with Wi-Fi can be $10 more expensive.
Also in this segment are tracker phones that provide GPS positioning, a built-in location database and automatic SMS. They have a 5MP camera, 2GB flash memory, 2.4 to 2.8in TFT screen, Bluetooth and multimedia functions. The units are priced from $80 to $90.
Ranging from $130 to $150, the mainstream GPS phones generally use the OMAP850 processor from TI or the PXA312 from Samsung. They have 128MB ROM, 64MB RAM and a 240x320-pixel QVGA TFT touchscreen from Sharp, Samsung or AUO. Screen sizes range from 2.4 to 3in.
Products operate on Windows Mobile 5.0, 6.0 or 6.1, and support Wi-Fi, GPS and up to 8GB TransFlash memory expansion. Some makers can add RAM of up to 128MB.
High-end models support 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz bands, GPRS, 2.75G EDGE, UMTS 2,100MHz and 3G networks such as HSDPA. GPS, Wi-Fi and a 2MP camera are standard specifications. Units also have 3in TFT touchscreens with an 800x480-pixel resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. Quoted at $300 to $400, the products operate on Windows Mobile 6.0.
China companies can also offer a digital map and navigation software from foreign suppliers or agents. Blank GPS phones, or those without software, are also available.
The majority of makers purchase processors from Marvel, TI and Samsung. Flash memory is sourced from Intel, Samsung and Japan-based providers such as Toshiba.
LCDs are from Sharp and Samsung, and providers in Taiwan and the mainland. GPS modules are based on SiRFstarIII, U-blox chipsets or ICs from SkyTraq and Amtel.
This article "GPS phones: Smartphones, LBS revitalize GPS phones line" is originally posted in Global Sources.
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