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GPS Manufacturers: Who Makes Those Gadgets?

some GPS manufacturers' logos

  As GPS technology has become more and more a part of daily life, more and more companies have begun producing GPS products, both for personal and for commercial use. Close to twenty companies have products on the market, seven of them ranking as the top GPS manufacturers. These seven companies are TomTom, Garmin, Magellan, DeLorme, Trimble, Lowrance and Navman.

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Several of the GPS manufacturers got into GPS production from other areas of technology. For instance, TomTom began in Amsterdam in 1991 as Palmtop, to develop business applications for the genesis of handheld computers. From there, the company added applications for personal use, for Palm Pilots, and eventually for all Microsoft-based applications. With the advent of GPS technology in the late 1990s, Palmtop changed its focus to mobile in-car navigation. In 2001, the company became TomTom and launched the TomTom Navigator. Currently, TomTom has offices in Amsterdam, London, and North America. TomTom products can be used with PDAs, Pocket PCs, in automobiles, and even with motorcycles and scooters.

Garmin began its life in 1989 as a brainstorming session by a handful of engineers to develop navigation, and communication devices. The company quickly grew, expanding from a few employees in 1989 to 1,000 employees only ten years later. Garmin designs, manufactures, markets, and sells its products for a wide range of applications. Included markets are automotive navigation, marine devices to supplement charts, aviation technology, fitness devices, wireless GPS for smart phones, and outdoor receivers. Today, Garmin has offices around the world and employees over 7,000 employees.

Another of the top seven GPS manufacturers is Magellan. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California with offices in Carquefou, France, Magellan offers GPS products for hand-held outdoor devices and in-car navigation, including the Hertz NeverLost® navigation system for rental vehicles. Magellan began life as Thales Navigation, a division of Thales, an international company engaged in aerospace, defense, and security products. In 2006, Shah Capital Partners, a private equity firm purchased Thales Navigation and changed the name to Magellan. In January, 2009, MiTAC International Corporation purchased Magellan.

DeLorme has been in the mapping business since 1976. Based in Yarmouth, Maine, this company produces mapping products, technology, and data for both consumer and professionals. Beginning as a publisher of paper atlases, Delorme emerged in the 1990s as a technological innovator by pioneering GPS solutions for laptops, Pocket PCs and Palm OS devices, and recently for Bluetooth applications. The latest technological innovation came in 2007 with the Earthmate GPS PN-20, which displays color topographic maps and aerial imagery.

Trimble manufactures GPS products, but it also known for a variety of positioning technologies, such as laser, optical and inertial. Trimble employs nearly 4,000 employees in 18 countries and sells products in 100 countries to a number of industries, including agriculture, engineering, and construction, transportation and wireless communication infrastructure. Now a GPS giant, Trimble began as a company of three former Hewlett-Packard employees. They founded the business in 1978 in Silicon Valley in California, with the purpose of providing innovative and navigation products. At the same time, the United States was developing GPS system. Trimble married GPS technology with others, such as wireless communications, to create position-centric applications.

One of the oldest GPS manufacturers is Lowrance, who offers a large range of SONAR and GPS products for outdoor recreation for aviation. In 1957 Lowrance introduced the first sport fishing SONAR instruments capable of locating individual fish. From that point to the present, Lowrance continued to pioneer technology for marine use. Over the past 50 years, Lowrance introduced the first marine electronics to use microprocessors, the first fully waterproof SONAR unit, Advanced Signal Processing (ASP) in all LCG (liquid crystal graph) products, and the first unit to incorporate LCD and sonar capabilities. Headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the company manufactures products for marine, aviation, outdoor, and automotive use in 53 countries worldwide, and has offices in the U.S. Canada, Europe, and Australia.

The seventh of the top manufacturers began life as in 1986 as Talon Technology in a garage in Auckland, New Zealand. The company's initial focus was marine electronics, but after the advent of GPS technology in the 1990s Talon quickly moved into satellite navigation and changed the company name to Navman. In 1997, Navman produced the first PDA-based car navigation device. In 2001, it added wireless business to business products. To assist the in-car navigation products, Navman also developed a receiver which integrated GPRS (wireless connectivity) and GPS, thus enhancing efficiency of fleet management. Currently, Navman provides software for Palm handhelds, Pocket PCs, automotive, and marine navigation systems for sale across the globe.

While these seven companies hold the top rank as GPS manufacturers, ten other companies produce GPS devices. For instance, electronics giant, Sony, produces portable in-car navigation using Bluetooth wireless technology. Pioneer, another major electronics firm, manufactures in-dash GPS navigation systems. Deluo, produces GPS for laptops, cell phones, and boats, but also makes mouse GPS units, and a GPS keychain, a wireless device to add GPS tracking to smart phones.

Holux, too, produces mouse GPS units, plus car and handheld GPS receivers, including a wireless GPS receiver module about the size of a roll of film, that acts as a GPS data logger. Furuno is a Japanese company established in 1938 that joined the GPS game in 2001 with NavNet, developed for marine use as a fish finder, and a very sophisticated chart plotter. Eagle, too, manufactures fish finders and chart plotters, including the IntelliMap which has a waterproof MMC/SD slot to record GPS data files.

Delphi and Destinator Technologies produce mobile GPS in-car navigation systems, and a "traffic watcher", which gives real-time (wireless) updates on traffic jams, speeds, construction and more. In addition to in-car GPS systems, Mio Technology produces a handheld GPS device, the DigiWalker that navigates for people on foot, particularly in urban areas. Last, but not least, Pharos produces GPS navigation for cars and cell phones, and also produces a GPS trip recorder, which logs a person's travel route, along with photos which can then be viewed using Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth.

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