A Garmin Ltd. (GRMN) spokesperson announced that the company had selected a carrier for the nuvifone G6, its new smartphone. Although the name of the carrier was not announced, rumor has it that it could be AT&T (T), the second-largest player in the U.S. The product will be manufactured by Taiwanese PC manufacturer Asustuk.

Garmin expects the product to generate $100-200 million in revenue this year, which would add an incremental 4% to the top line. This means that Garmin would still be short of the one million unit mark this year. Although the company’s small size and vulnerability in the intensely competitive market could delay initial customer response, Asus is geared to crossing the million unit threshold in 2010.

We believe that the success of the product could be tempered by AT&T’s commitment to Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, for which it has exclusive distribution rights in the U.S.

Competition and market dynamics have been slowing down Garmin’s growth in the last two years. The company is one of the largest players in the personal navigation device (PND) market.

Management expected the PND market to gradually give way to GPS-enabled smartphones, as consumers continue to show a preference for an all-in-one device. The company decided to develop its own smartphones to protect the significant market share it has captured over the past few years.

Everything would have gone smoothly if the recession had not hit the economy so severely. As it happened, the automotive market (its largest segment) was severely impacted. Additionally, the company was forced to enter into relationships with recession-hit carriers that continue to show significant apathy to increased spending.

The nuvifone has had a stumbling start in the fiercely competitive Taiwanese market. After repeated postponement, the device finally started shipping, side by side with smart phones from Nokia (NOK), Research In Motion (RIMM), Apple and HTC.

Garmin’s phone does not look less attractive, and has a host of features — including a PND with on-board maps and premium points of interest; UMTS, HSPDA and Wi-Fi data connectivity; a premium mobile web browser; a local search portal that seamlessly integrates navigation functions; SMS; instant messaging and e-mailing; a camera with automatic location tagging and picture navigation; and multimedia features such as a video recorder, MPEG 4 video player and MP3.

We remain positive about the company’s prospects, given that the market for GPS-enabled smart phones is expected to reach 77 million units in 2009 (according to Strategy Analytics). We believe that Garmin needs a very small share of that market to generate significant growth over the next few years.
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