The GPS navigation unit market is one that's largely commoditized, with little apparent differentiation to many consumers among products. It's also a highly competitive market, particularly for makers of standalone systems, who must compete against car manufacturers' built-in offerings, and now also against mobile-phone based systems. But TomTom, the world's biggest vendor of standalone GPS units, is hoping to set itself apart from its rivals by harnessing the power of its community of users
. It's made a bid for Tele Atlas, a digital mapmaker, and once it owns the company and its maps, it will be able to incorporate all sorts of user-generated information into its maps and navigation units. Users will be able to notify the company of changes to roads and conditions, or to update information on points of interest, such as restaurants that have opened or closed. This sort of "crowdsourcing"
has gotten a lot attention over the past few years, though many implementations of it leave a lot to be desired
. But TomTom's idea could be a pretty good one. Not only does it help the company improve its products and differentiate from its rivals at a relatively low cost, users also derive a tangible benefit from participation in the way of updated and more accurate maps and info, so they have some incentive to participate.