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Garmin’s Viago app seeks to win over smartphone users

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Wednesday, July 2, 2014, at 1:54 p.m.

First, travelers unfolded maps. Then, some turned to dashboard GPS systems. Now people can just open a smartphone app when they need directions.

Garmin Corp., once the biggest provider of GPS systems, has felt the shift toward GPS apps and away from standalone dashboard systems. Its new navigational app, Viago, launched in mid-June in an attempt to woo back users who abandoned their traditional navigation systems for cheaper or free GPS apps.

Viago, available in Android and iOS versions, offers more features than free apps Google Maps and Apple Maps, but at a price. The app itself is only 99 cents – on sale until July 13, when it will go for $1.99. But the bulk of its unique features require other in-app purchases.

“The idea is that instead of charging a fixed price, you can buy the app and just purchase the features you want,” said Johan-Till Broer, Garmin’s press relations manager at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Olathe. “It gives a user more flexibility to really choose what they want.”

Basic features in the app include multi-destination routes, speed limit information and lane assistance with realistic junction views. Features such as Maps to Go, which downloads maps to be used out-of-service, and Real Directions, which uses landmarks, buildings and traffic lights instead of just street names to direct the driver, require an additional in-app purchase.

“I really like the Real Directions feature,” Broer said. “If I gave my wife directions, I’d say turn right at the traffic light. It’s just more natural.”

Viago isn’t Garmin’s first system for hand-held devices; the company released the StreetPilot app back in 2011. Compared with other Garmin GPS products, such as Nuvi devices that cost anywhere from $99 to $399, Viago seems to be a steal.

“This has Garmin routing, and we have 20 years of experience,” Broer said.

Garmin does not release sales numbers, but Broer said the app was at the top of iOS’s app store the day it was launched.

Garmin was the top seller of GPS devices for cars, but its stock has lost more than two-thirds of its worth since its peak in 2007, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review.

Most of its business was in GPS devices until smartphones with navigating capabilities became household devices. Garmin’s outdoor, fitness, aviation and marine segments now make up 58 percent of total revenue. Garmin’s automotive segment claimed 42 percent of revenue – including apps, standalone navigation devices and OEM systems – in the first quarter of this year.

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