Garmin Introduces Ad-Supported Traffic Updates

When Garmin [NASDAQ:GRMN] introduced their latest batch of Nuvi GPS units, they came with one transcendent feature: free traffic alerts for the lifetime of the product. But now that review models have gone out to the tech media, reports are coming back that “free” is a relative term. Garmin is pre-loading every map screen on its Nuvis with clickable advertisements. This was first discovered by PC Magazine, testing a Nuvi 755T.

As the review describes:

“One gripe: The nüvi 755T comes with advertisements. My evaluation unit arrived with three preloaded vendors (BP, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo). When you access the traffic menu, one of these advertiser’s names always appears at the bottom of the screen. Also, from time to time, one of these ads will pop up on the map view screen (they won’t appear when you are in motion). A single tap of the advertisers’ name will perform a POI search for nearby retail locations.”

No, you can’t disable these ads — they’re a baked-in feature apparently meant to offset the cost of providing constant traffic updates. And while that might draw ire from consumers, the increasing screen size of each generation of GPS units might make a small ad ticker less prominent and annoying. For now, though, Garmin’s offer of “free traffic alerts” doesn’t seem so free anymore.

If the new NAVTEQ and Nokia [NYSE:NOK] marriage can figure out a way to do these kinds of traffic updates for no cost at all to consumers (even costs to their attention), then they might finally get a leg up on Garmin.CD