Today Garmin introduced the GPSMap 78 series, an apparently major refresh of the 76 series long popular with boaters. While I only got to fiddle with a pre-production unit for a moment, I did learn a lot about the industrial design process behind it. The ID department in Olathe -- aka "The Skunk Works" or "Area 51" -- has a tool collection that would make all sorts of craftsmen and artists drool, but I'll save that story for another day. What's particularly notable about the exhibit shown above and below is how many design iterations were created and modeled for the 78, and how detailed they were...And there was lots more to the process than shown here. The design software, for instance, could calculate whether the various shapes would float, but the design team also inserted appropriate weights into models and dunked them. (Incidentally, I lost track of how many different rapid prototyping systems the ID dept. has at its disposal, each apparently better suited for particular steps of the design process.) Garmin is justifiably proud of the ID facility and the talents in it, but made a special point about how it fits into the company's emphasis on vertical integration. Many manufacturing companies contract industrial design out to specialists, but it's hard to imagine how that could be as collaborative and as efficient as what goes on in Olathe. The evolution illustrated on this wall happened with regular input from the hardware and software engineers involved with the 78, as well as the marketing and sales teams. There are also processes in place, formal and informal, to encourage cross pollination amongst Garmin's several product groups, and to collect input from users via various channels, but those too are stories for another day.
So how did the GPSMap 78s turn out? Well, they won't actually pass through that giant warehouse and out to stores and reviewers for a few weeks, but I did notice some interesting specs and features. Like 1.7 GB of internal memory and a micro SD card slot, which might be especially useful with the relatively new BirdsEye Satellite Imagery service and/or the custom map feature. These handhelds can be used with BaseCamp topo software, but they'll also play nicely with the somewhat similar HomePort planning software, reviewed here recently, which is important, I think, because creating routes on a small display is hard no matter how fast it is. I look forward to trying a 78, or least reading what a good review site like GPSTrackLog has to say about it. I already think it looks good, perhaps even more so now that I've seen how much care went into that look.