Garmin to sell wireless phone in Asia

June 6, 2009


— Navigational device maker Garmin Ltd. will start selling its oft-delayed wireless phone in Asia within the next month, Chief Operating Officer Cliff Pemble told shareholders Friday.

Speaking at the company’s annual meeting in suburban Kansas City, Pemble said the nuvifone will go on sale in selected markets in late June or early July. But he said a release date for North America and Europe is still on hold.

“We believe we’re getting very close,” Pemble said in response to a question from an investor.

The nuvifone, two designs of which were on display at the meeting, is a touch-screen smartphone with features of Garmin’s line of Global Positioning System-powered devices, such as turn-by-turn driving directions, traffic warnings and a search engine for nearby restaurants and stores.

Originally announced in January 2008, the nuvifone is Garmin’s entry into the cellular phone market and considered key to the company’s future. Cell phone carriers have increasingly been chipping away at Garmin’s market, adding navigational features to their phones.

But the device’s commercial release has been delayed repeatedly — it was originally supposed to be on sale in the first half of this year — as Garmin has worked to iron out technical issues with the phone and negotiate with wireless providers to carry the device.

In February, Garmin said it was teaming up with Taiwan-based Asustek Computer Inc. to develop and produce a co-branded line of feature-rich mobile phones.

“We haven’t, unfortunately, performed the way we hoped to on releasing the product,” Pemble said, noting the company had to develop the phone’s operating system essentially from scratch and initially planned to release it without a dedicated carrier but changed its mind.

He declined to provide other details about the phone, such as carriers Garmin is working with in North America or a price for the phone in Asia. A North American version is still expected in the second half of the year.

Most of the meeting was spent reassuring shareholders, who have watched their shares drop 54 percent in the past year as the recession has caused prices and demand for Garmin’s navigational devices to fall.

Revenue in 2008 rose almost 10 percent to $3.5 billion, but annual profits sank 9.6 percent to $773 million, the first annual decline in Garmin’s eight years as a publicly traded company.

Min Kao, the company’s chairman and CEO, said Garmin was working to boost profitability and “will be positioned for future growth when economic conditions improve.”


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