Garmin re-announces Nuvifone, this time with Asus

GPS maven Garmin has re-announced intentions to launch GPS-enabled mobile phones, and this time around, the rollout is planned with Eee maker Asus for later this month in Barcelona.

The name might not roll easily off the tongue, but the "Garmin-Asus Nuvifone series" -- a new revival of Garmin's previously unveiled Nuvifone -- just might challenge Apple's iPhone some day.

At a press conference in Taiwan this week, GPS specialist Garmin joined with netbook producer Asus in announcing plans to introduce the new smartphone family at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in mid-February.

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Garmin had earlier announced the Nuvifone on January 30, 2008. "Garmin anticipates that the Nuvifone will be available in the third quarter of 2008," according to a statement released by the company at the time.

At the outset, Garmin described its Nuvifone as combining turn-by-turn personal navigation with a 3.5-inch touchscreen display, an Internet browser, data connectivity, personal messaging, and mapping.

In the interim, though, Apple rolled out the also GPS-centric iPhone 3G last summer, an event that might have played into Garmin's decision to push back its full-scale phone launch to 2009.

At the press conference this week, Garmin said that the Nuvifone first targeted for release this year has now been re-branded as the Nuvifone G60, and that is will be delivered in the first half of this year -- along with several other Nuvifone models - after a rollout at the MWC in Barcelona.

The G60 will offer the same turn-by-turn, voice-prompted navigation features found on Garmin portable navigation devices (PNDs).

Garmin Chairman and CEO Dr. Min Kao acknowledged on Wednesday that Garmin had actually begun to collaborate with Asus early last year through an ODM relationship.

"Learning from this experience, we concluded that by leveraging and combining our respective industry-leading areas of expertise to a higher level, we will be able not only to significantly expand our product line, but also to shorten our product development time," Kao said in a prepared statement. "We believe that through this strategic alliance we are uniquely positioned to deliver the world's best integrated and most compelling GPS-enabled mobile devices."

Meanwhile, Garmin's newly announced official partner Asus has been wending its way into phones through some other pathways, too, introducing Windows Mobile-enable smartphones for the Asian market and announcing a dedicated Skype phone last fall at press events in London and New York City.

Will the two partners succeed in getting support for the Nuvifone from wireless carriers? That remains to be seen, although the MWC doesn't seem like a bad place to start.

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