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Fugawi breaks away from the crowd…

For some time Fugawi has produced a perfectly good piece of navigation software Fugawi ENC. I must confess I have not had time to review it in detail, so much time was spent with my 7 part optimal routing series last year and with testing MaxSea TZ in action.

Who owns Fugawi? – well in January, software manufacturer Northport Systems that owns Fugawi and X-Traverse.com (the online chart subscription service) announced that its president, Robin Martel, had acquired the company. Robin Martel took over as the owner of Northport after having joined business development manager in 2002. He became the company's president three years later. Prior to joining Northport Systems, Martel co-founded and led New Zealand-based GPS Control Ltd., working as its managing director and technical manager; held directorial positions with Pico Data Ltd. and Expressway Group Ltd.; and was the marketing manager, sales engineer and IT manager for Geo-Systems Ltd.

Northport Systems began operations fifteen years ago. Its first product was the affordable Fugawi-brand mapping software for GPS receivers, which allowed customers to scan and calibrate their own map images for use with early GPS handheld devices. The company has since expanded both its customer and product base, and now offers a selection of GPS-related software products for land, marine, commercial and military applications; as well as an extensive line of digital maps and charts for regions throughout the world that are available for instant download from X-Traverse.com to a wide variety of PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile devices. With its desktop, mobile and web-based navigation and mapping software products and services, available under the Fugawi, X-Traverse and third party brands in over 130 countries, Northport Systems enjoys a worldwide reputation as a leader in GPS mapping software and innovative GPS applications.

Structure_FugawiHandheld/Mobile Device Expertise – So Northport/Fugawi has a great track record in getting digital charts and charting software on to a very large variety of GPS enabled handheld devices and smartphones. Its X-Traverse.com is a web service that allows you to transfer your digital map data and personal Waypoint, Routes, Tracks and POI to and from your PC, iPhone, and other mobile devices.

Northport/Fugawi have already proved their skill with the excellent $129 NavPlanner2 which is bundled with Navionics Gold charts of the entire U.S. plus the Northern Bahamas, and a Navionics card reader.  The software also has GRIB weather file overlay facilities and it includes even more U.S. freshwater data than HotMaps (17,000 U.S. lakes on a $20 DVD!), with all of Navionics High Definition lake surveys. This is a great planning tool from which you can transfer routes to most your plotter using cable, card, or Internet.  NavPlanner2 supports Waypoint, Route and Track transfer export to: GPX, Google Earth (KML or KMZ), ESRI ShapeFile, Fugawi or ASCII Text.

It is also compatible with MuskokaTech's PathAway GPS Software for Windows® Mobile and Nokia/Symbian operating systems. It can be used with Fugawi's X-Traverse to transfer data online with iNavX or iMap on an iPhone or iPad, Facebook, and more. All the transfers are two way so you can use NavPlanner2 to collect and enjoy tracks you made on all sorts of devices.

Strategy – So following the thread I began about strategic trends in marine electronics and the posting about the structure of modern chart plotting software which looked at the products coming from the Furuno/Signet stable (MaxSea TZ and Nobeltec Trident) – its seems perfectly sensible that Robin Martel should be talking to these guys about joining forces.

Now please note I have no idea if Robin is doing thisBUT I would be delighted if Northport would bring their the undoubted expertise in the mobile arena, and the brilliant glass bridge AVIA series of products, into the fold.

The North Vancouver based Avia Design Group Inc. is the producer of the Avia Sail and Avia Motor line of virtual instrumentation products for NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000® networks. And Northport appear to have an exclusive distribution agreement for this product line.

Of course as the diagram illustrates there is nothing to stop you doing this right now. All the elements of the software and hardware interfaces are on the market right now and all will work together using the important glue of X-Traverse.com at the software/data level, and Actisense at the hardware level.

In the meantime Garmin, who is pretty much a go it alone type of company building their whole stack of products from the hardware upwards, is going to have their work cut out. As for poor old Raymarine – well readers of my previous postings know what I think of their strategic thinking! – as I have said before, good luck FLIR !

In my next post I will look at the Fugawi AVIA product line – very exciting, and its not just a pretty face!

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Furuno/Signet get it right…

Following on from my previous post on the growing monopoly power in the marine electronics industry and its impact on consumer choice I though I would illustrate my arguments using the excellent new releases from the Furuno/Signet empire.

Firstly, make no mistake the Furuno/Signet empire is going to make a very significant impact on the marine industry, and I think in the short to medium term at least this will be a good thing judging by the quality of their strategic thinking and their product launches so far.

Last year MaxSea launched the brilliant TimeZero software that I reviewed extensively in my 7 part series on Optimal Routing. Now (February 2011) Nobeltec has released its Trident software. Two product launches from two different companies that have loyal and extensive customer bases. You may recall that the Nobeltec customer base was irate and despondent when Nobeltec was sold off by Jeppesen in 2009 to Signet – they thought that was the end – but it was not so. The Furuno-Signet team are smart! Instead of alienating thousands of customers they have wowed them all with two brilliant bits of software….and by doing this by re-using fundamental components much like the big car manufacturers do. This technique means that products can be made with greater standardisation and therefore reliability, be enhanced more easily, and produce greater return on investment thereby attracting increased future investment.

Structure_1So it looks like the design of a modern chart plotting software systems should look something like this:

At the time of the release of the Nobeltec Trident software in February there were dozens of press releases being repeated all over the blogosphere and marine industry mags that went on and on about this feature and that feature.

Take this quote from Nobeltec PR ”…Trident will be the most dynamic, cutting-edge PC-based navigation software available. Built on the innovative TimeZero chart engine, Trident offers a completely new, sophisticated user interface designed to be extremely intuitive and easy to use. The chart engine redraws charts seamlessly allowing users to easily zoom, pan, change chart display modes, and perform other chart handling functions without limited range presets. Users can choose to pan and zoom the chart to any angle at any range scale instantly. There is no limited "3D mode" because Nobeltec TimeZero Trident operates in a true 3D environment at all times….” etc etc…

I am sure you can all remember the press releases for MaxSea TZ from 2008/9….Doesn’t this sound exactly the same? There is a reason for that.

Structure_Nobeltec

Structure_MaxSea

All the features listed are the exactly the same because they all come from the same library of software functions that the excellent developers at Signet (MaxSea) are responsible for – presumably under the watchful eye of Brice Pryzo.

Only the user interface is different. This should pacify the loyal customer bases of Nobeltec and MaxSea while allowing innovation from the competing development teams at MaxSea and Nobeltec. The user interface can diverge and have different novel ideas added while maintaining a high degree of reliability and maintainability through the use of the same fundamental software libraries. In fact when you install MaxSea TZ on a PC – and I guess the same is true of Nobeltec Trident – you also install a heck of a lot of Microsoft database software and other Microsoft support libraries too – many Gb’s in fact! so make sure you have plenty of disc space. This is the way to make critical software more reliable and yet to allow for developers to innovate with the user interface. This is a great strategy.

Yes I do know that MaxSea has other software on the market at the same time (Navigator; Racing PRO; X7; Commander; Explorer; Professional) and so does Nobeltec (Nobeltec VNS and Nobeltec v12). Well there is plenty of room for all these products and one will suit a particular sailor more than another.

For me it has to be software based on the TimeZero technology however. Having used it extensively last year on sail yacht; power boat; and a 55ft steel coaster sailing from Liverpool to Lowestoft, I do think it is far more friendly, and the ability to instantly switch between vector and raster charts is fantastic.

I am convinced that this is the technology strategy that will win the day ….. it is so reminiscent of Windows v CPM from the 1980’s PC industry – no contest.

Now what I would like to see is Fugawi joining forces – and bringing its X-Traverse and Avia Instrument Interface into the game…now that really would be a basis for some fantastic products!

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