Asus Takes on the iPhone

Posted by: Cliff Edwards on February 4, 2009

A year ago, GPS device-maker Garmin announced with some fanfare that it was developing a touch-screen phone that doubles as a location-based personal navigation device.

It was beginning to smell of vaporware until today. The company announced it is teaming up with Taiwan-based pc maker Asustek to roll out not one, but several “nuviphone” models this year.

One might still take this with a grain of salt, since the companies would say only that the first model is due in the first half. They also offered few specifics in a press release on its cost or whether there’s even carrier interest in them.

But don’t tune out just yet. The execs are Asus are those clever folks who pioneered the netbook category of cheap stripped-down laptop pcs.

They tackled the crowded pc market by coming up with something so simple, at the right price points, that a surprising number of consumers are snapping them up around the world.

Now they’re betting they can beat Apple, Nokia, Samsung and other mobile industry bigwigs by closely tying in location-based services to the phone’s core functionality. According to the company’s press release, the first nuviphone will come preloaded with maps and millions of points of interest that allow drivers to quickly find a specific street address, or an establishment’s name.


If done right, the GPS functionality also could allow “look-ahead” functionality to help you pick a good restaurant or hotel while on a road trip. The nüvifone also features Ciao!, a social networking application that “bridges the gap between multiple location-based social networks and integrates them seamlessly into one device.” Translated, that means they figure they’ve got the best way for you to stay connected (and snoop on) your friends’ comings and goings.

The device itself looks like a winner. I saw the nuviphone last year, and it’s a gorgeous touch-screen device that seemed to operate well in the brief demo I was given. The user interface was simple and easy to use and the programs offered snappy load times.

Of course, a lot will depend on the pricing for the device and for the data plan, as well as which carriers, if any, will pick it up.

Where does Apple come in? Despite its phenomenal success, the smartphone category still is up for grabs. Apple’s iPhone strength has largely been a U.S. phenomenon. That’s not to be taken lightly, since it’s a huge market. And its secret sauce is the App Store, which has attracted thousands of developers.

But its weaker traction outside the U.S., coupled with the global economic crisis that has people holding onto their phones longer, could leave the folks in Cupertino vulnerable to other market players on a global basis.

Why? The more time competitors have to come up with something that works just as well as the iPhone, the worse it will be for Apple.

And there are going to be plenty, from the looks of it. Palm is making its comeback bid with the Palm Pre and WebOS operating system. There’s expected to be a slew of Google Android-based phone announcement in the next two weeks, and now the pcs makers are trying their hands at the mobile business.

Even Intel is getting back into the business, betting it can steal some thunder for new mobile Internet devices, or MIDs, based on its Atom processors.

Can Apple stand strong against the withering assault?

Reader Comments

HereAndNow

February 5, 2009 4:23 AM

The market for good looking Android devices is still wide open. If Garmin-Asus is an early entrant into the Android device segment, they could really take advantage of the pent-up demand.

Paul Clisby

February 5, 2009 5:10 AM

Withering assault? Are you on crack?

Apple has opened up a monstrous lead in the consumer level smart-phone market. They have the platform, the mind share, and the ever-growing development community. And by the time Garmin, Palm and co. release their "iPhone Killers!" to the market, Apple will have done the job themselves, replacing v2 with the next-gen v3 due in June.

What is it about Apple that attracts so many haters. Why not celebrate a great American story of sustained innovation, rather than pumping the copy+paste me too crowd. Sheesh.

Paul Clisby

February 5, 2009 5:10 AM

Withering assault? Are you on crack?

Apple has opened up a monstrous lead in the consumer level smart-phone market. They have the platform, the mind share, and the ever-growing development community. And by the time Garmin, Palm and co. release their "iPhone Killers!" to the market, Apple will have done the job themselves, replacing v2 with the next-gen v3 due in June.

What is it about Apple that attracts so many haters. Why not celebrate a great American story of sustained innovation, rather than pumping the copy+paste me too crowd. Sheesh.

Warren Strycker

February 5, 2009 6:33 AM

Apple's position is strong.

Joe

February 5, 2009 8:49 AM

Name a phone company that ISN'T trying to take on the iPhone? I own some Asus stuff, and although it works well, it isn't the king of user interfaces like Apple.

Good luck Asus...you'll need it.

zerosum1975

February 5, 2009 9:10 AM

You wrote "Why? The more time competitors have to come up with something that works just as well as the iPhone, the worse it will be for Apple."

Yeah, well they've had years to come up with something that works just as well as the iPod and haven't even made a dent. So... You watch, same will happen with iPhone. And Google and Palm, don't have multitouch and don't have the App Store or iTunes. Unfortunately they will keep trying but will always FAIL.

Rob

February 5, 2009 9:39 AM

The thing that is interesting to me about this article is not GPS phones but the potential of a smartphone made by Asustek.

The smartphones currently on the market are great but there are a very limited number of people who are rich enough and dumb enough to pay $1000 a year for the data plan.

If someone were to come out with a capable but inexpensive smartphone coupled with a reasonably priced data plan... that would be a hot product.

Tim

February 5, 2009 10:34 AM

A couple things.

1. I like Mac products and have numerous ones in the household.

2. Garmin phone may not be targeting the iPhone, don't get into the media hype. I can see uses for the Garmin phone.

3. Don't count Google out. Android has the potential to be great and if you don't think Andriod will end up as an OS you are mistaken.

4. Google is a GIANT in web based areas. If Google actually wanted to make the full push, they could and watch out. Will it be an iPhone Killer, don't know and don't care.

But when I look at new products I do look at the cost/benfits factor.

The iPhone still does not out sell RIM. The iPhone is a great seller but RIM has a Worldwide following

Eric

February 5, 2009 1:57 PM

Let's be reminded how long iphone is in the market and how many iPhone killers got killed. So far the only worthy contender seems to be Palm Pre. And even RIM is comparatively dumb when compared to Apple.

From the history, I don't think Asus/Garmin can compete with iPhone for easy of use.

I'd say, may be other players, any one other than Apple, be warned.

MrClock

February 5, 2009 4:58 PM

By using the extensive GPS features of Garmin, this device makes an end around of the cell phone data plan. You don't need an Internet connection, just your on board GPS database to use the phones impressive feature set. This alone could the phone to provide a very low monthly cost to users, a weak point that the Smart Phone industry in general is very much vulnerable to. Very smart move by Asus, especially if they can keep the device itself low-cost.

Sam Siphandone

February 5, 2009 8:50 PM

Yeah, iPhone is "a great American story of sustained innovation..." but made in CHINA.

Joe

February 6, 2009 8:01 AM

There are people (like me) who live in countries that Yahoo maps and Google maps just don't cover. We explore remote areas in remote countries. The iphone will not get me home if I am lost in Thailand. It just won't. I use a mio digiwalker which is primarily a GPS with a smart phone element. The gps is great but the windows mobile 6.0 is buggy. It has gotten me out of lost in Bangkok situations a number of occasions. People like me would love a Garmin combined with a decent UI. We are a different freaking target group. Tech geeks and suburban moms can have their iphone. I am a traveler. Sometimes I get lost in obscure places and need to get my family home. I also like having nice tech stuff. This sounds great.
Sam, I agree I'll take a Taiwanese product over a Chinese one any day.

Trish

February 7, 2009 12:13 PM

As much as I hate to say it. Not much can come close to the Apple phenom right now. It does so much in one spot, with so much ease. I have looked for other things to come close. It is just not there. And if you want to play with something new, in 30 seconds you can download a new app and tap away. Its fun, always fresh. Cheers to ppl with good eyesight. I'd even rather surf the web on my ipod. Press and go. Perfect.

Davis

April 7, 2009 3:27 AM

GPS device-maker Garmin announced with some fanfare that it was developing a touch-screen phone that doubles as a location-based personal navigation device.
----------------------------
Davis
Asus Laptop Fan

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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