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Lost and found?

“Marvellous,” I said, “so when could we have a personal navigation device?” When I interviewed someone from the then emerging automotive navigation sector about five or so years ago, it didn't take a genius to see where the future of gps technology lay.

Roll forward to 2008 and the personal navigation device (PND) market is well established. Worldwide shipments of PNDs reached 30.7 million in 2007, up from 13.3 million in 2006, according to In-Stat. It predicts that shipments of PNDs will grow to 68 million units in 2012, as unit prices decline. One of the latest examples is Garmin's latest entry-level (sub $200) PND – take a look inside it via David Carey's latest. ‘Under the Hood’

And as I popped up and down the pedestrian underpass on Hyde Park Corner like a jack rabbit the other day, a softly spoken 'turn left and take the next exit' was just the thing I needed. But let's face it, as getting a little lost in London isn't a daily occurrence, I haven't yet invested in a London A to Z, let alone a $200+ PND.

So it's not surprising to see that along with gps functionality and location-aware services, many PNDs justify their existence by transforming into mini entertainment consoles, adding music and video player capabilities too. Sony's NV-U94T, for example, incorporates these as well as Bluetooth functionality that enables audio streaming between the PND and a compatible Bluetooth-enabled car stereo system.

Of course, the growth in gps enabled handsets, plus embedded automotive navigation systems, has played a large part in forcing this transformation. But it strikes me that there are some cultural forces at play behind the growth in alternatives to dedicated PNDs. There's something a little off-putting about the thought of walking down a city street, or a country road, clutching a PND, but a phone that also provides navigation – well, that's more acceptable.

Unfortunately, some manufacturer's answer to this paradox of the freedom of being on foot and the security of knowing where you are going, is to align their devices with famous brands. Boasts Sony about its NV-U94T: “Brand icons help users quickly and easily identify their favourite restaurants, hotels, gas stations, stores and other locations while travelling through unfamiliar cities. Sony's new nav-u devices now have 30 percent more brand icons than last season's models.”

If there is anything that is more likely to put me off the concept of a PND, it is the charmlessness of something that is another insidious means of advertising to me. So with my dream of a personal navigation extravaganza swiftly turning into a branded nightmare, what's the solution? My advice to the marketeers is to go and visit England's Lake District and find out why every seasoned fell walker is clutching a well-worn Wainwright pictorial guide – their task is to make the idea of a PND as appealing.

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