By Ben Ellison
Flying With Garmin
|Gary and Min want to put their electronics everywhere, including onto your big boat.|
Thomas Haines, editor-in-chief of the world’s largest aviation magazine, AOPA Pilot, theorizes that the intriguing integrated electronics system pictured at right “is called the Garmin G1000 because the average general aviation pilot will say, ‘Gee!’ 1,000 times during the demo flight.” It’s a clever line, but my excuse for repeating it here is to add that the G1000—which puts mapping, radar, gauges, controls, communications, and even live weather imagery across those multiple monitors—also suggests where boat electronics are headed and that Garmin is going to be there.
Haines goes on to write that, while he and his readers in the Aviation Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) think of the G1000 as revolutionary, for Garmin it’s simply evolutionary. That’s because “the company founders Gary Burrell and Dr. Min Kao (the Gar and Min in Garmin) have envisioned the G1000 since before they produced their first product in 1989.” It’s worth noting that while these two hands-on engineers first met while working on early aviation GPS, Burrell was already a Lowrance alumnus. It’s also clear, at least retrospectively, that they went out on their own with an apparently bottomless bag of vision and drive.
In those 15 years Garmin has grown from a roomful of engineers into a major electronics player that sold $572 million worth of mostly GPS-related products to flyers, drivers, hikers, and boaters worldwide in 2003. These sales were up more than 20 percent from 2002, which were up more than 20 percent from 2001, and so on. Garmin is now building a 450,000-square-foot addition to its Olathe, Kansas, headquarters and has its own manufacturing facility in Taiwan. This sort of information may only be available because the company went public in 2001; generally Garmin—like many tech companies—is pretty tight-lipped about what it’s up to. For instance, a representative declined to say how many of the current 900 employees in Olathe are engineers. My guess is a heck of a lot.
Here’s a nugget from Garmin’s annual report: “Management expects that its research and development expenses [already $44 million] will increase approximately 20 to 25 percent during 2004 due to the anticipated introduction of approximately 45 new products.” No wonder the big boys of marine electronics almost all consider Garmin their biggest long-term worry. While some of these products—like the G1000 or tiny wrist-top GPS for runners—will be of no use to boaters, Garmin has the habit of accessorizing products in one niche with ideas developed in another. The new 60C handheld plotter (see page 36) is a good example, able to do turn-by-turn car routing almost as well as it does boat navigation.
But the big news from Garmin is the recent unveiling of a multistation system aimed squarely at larger boats. At the center are the spanking-new 3006 (6.4-inch) and 3010 (10.4-inch) color MFDs (multifunction displays). That’s an expression we should all get used to; Raymarine is using it with its new C Series, and it’s an apt term to describe the latest from Northstar and Furuno. Garmin’s 3000 series MFDs look and act like its popular 2000 plotters and can similarly double as fishfinders with the addition of a GSD20 black box and transducer, but there’s much more. The units have dual video inputs and can output to a VGA monitor. They can also purportedly provide verbal alarms and turn prompts (probably like the company’s multilingual car navigation systems).
This article originally appeared in the June 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.