Garmin Not Screwed? New Nuvifone Looks Good

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Since late 2007, shares of GPS gadget maker Garmin (GRMN) have cratered, down more than 85% from their high near $124. Why? The worry that GPS built into smartphones — like Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, etc. — would destroy the GPS market the same way mobile phones killed the beeper.

Good news for Garmin: Its first Windows Mobile-based smartphone, the M20, is on the way. And it looks good. It’s no iPhone, but it’s a solid start. And it’s a sign that perhaps — especially in its partnership with netbook maker Asus — it can make a run with super-GPS-focused smartphones.

To be sure, Garmin still has a lot of hurdles. It needs to find mobile operators to buy and subsidise its Nuvifones. It might need to change gears and work with a better operating system — perhaps Google’s (GOOG) Android — to take advantage of consumers’ growing appetite for third-party apps. And it needs to make sure its mapping and GPS offerings are better than Google’s — or can work in tandem — especially if Google’s new Latitude social network becomes popular.

But Garmin is still small enough that even a modest mobile phone business can make a big impact. Consider this: If Garmin can convince mobile phone operators to buy just 1 million of its phones a year at $400 each, that’s $400 million in revenue. That’s a nice chunk of money for a company that’s expected to post sales of just $3.6 billion this year (down 4.5% year-over-year).

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