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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Garmin to release Navigation Heads-Up-Display this summer

As smartphones continue to make standalone GPS devices redundant, Garmin is trying something different with its upcoming heads-up-display (HUD).

The HUD uses a dash-mounted projector to display turn-by-turn directions, either on a transparent film on the windshield or on an attached reflector lens. It’s designed to help you keep your eyes on the road by putting directions in your line of sight. The HUD also shows the current speed, speed limit, potential traffic delays and nearby safety camera locations.

Some cars, such as the BMW M6 and Lexus HS, already have navigation HUDs built in. Garmin’s HUD is essentially an aftermarket version for any car, priced at about $130USD for the device itself. (You might also think of it as a cheaper alternative to Google Glass for putting directions in your peripheral vision.)

But there’s is an additional cost in the smartphone apps that you must purchase along with the HUD. Instead of having GPS directions built-in, the HUD receives navigation instructions from Garmin’s Navigon (iPhone and Android) or StreetPilot (iPhone and Windows Phone) apps, both of which start at $30USD for regional maps, and more for nationwide or continent-wide coverage. The apps send directions to the device via Bluetooth or through the phone’s speakers.

In other words, even if you've been enjoying the free turn-by-turn directions that are likely built into your smartphone, Garmin is hoping you’ll buy its apps along with a HUD for easier navigation.

The downside to this approach, aside from the added cost, is that Garmin’s own apps are not tightly integrated into smartphones. You can’t use Siri to ask for StreetPilot directions on the iPhone like you can with Apple Maps, or use Google voice search to get Navigon directions on an Android phone like you can with Google Maps. That means you’ll still have to fiddle with your phone to open Garmin’s apps and enter your destination.

Another consideration is that in some US States and Canadian Provinces, navigational displays mounted to the windshield and blocking the driver's view are explicitly prohibited.  States in green, are a 'yes', yellow is a 'yes' in some areas of the windshield, and red is a flat 'no'.  Since HUD's do not impair the user's view, they are not currently restricted - but are generally considered a luxury item for most vehicles.

In any case, the phone-to-HUD concept is a welcome one, especially if states start considering smartphone map apps to be a form of distracted driving. The more ways for us to keep our eyes on the road instead of looking down at a small screen, the better.

Garmin says the HUD will be available this summer.