March 6, 2002 4:00 PM PST

Electronic navigation on the rise

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North American sales of electronic navigation systems are expected to climb steadily for the next six years, prompted by a boom in automotive systems, according to a new report from research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Domestic sales of global positioning system (GPS) products totaled $3.19 billion last year and are expected to surpass $10 billion by 2008, according to analyst and report author Ron Stearns.

GPS devices read data from orbiting satellites, originally used for military navigation, to pinpoint a person's location and display coordinates on maps.

The devices initially proliferated in airplanes and marine vessels, where precise navigation is a necessity. As prices have dropped and accuracy has increased, however, handheld GPS units have become popular with hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. GPS navigation systems have also become increasing popular add-ons for cars as automakers push for telematics, or dashboard electronics.

Land-based devices now account for more than 90 percent of the GPS market, Stearns said, attributing the growth partly to ongoing price drops.

"Now in-vehicle navigation is getting down into the $1,000 price range, and you can get handheld units for $100," he said. "It becomes much more of a discretionary purchase at that level."

GPS devices have also become much more useful with built-in maps, audio information and simplified interfaces.

"Especially on the automotive side, the (manufacturers) know they need to make these relatively simple to use," Stearns said. "If you're boating or hiking or driving, you don't want to devote much of your attention to something that isn't contributing to your safety. The end user needs to be able to get these thing up and going and use it pretty much immediately."

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