Garmin fails miserably on user experience and service design

I have a Garmin Nüvi 660 – a splendid GPS unit. If you are looking for a GPS unit for your car, the Nüvi series is the way to go.

But this is not about GPS units or mapping updates as such – it’s about the hellish user experience that not thought through installation procedures and futile attempts to protect software from piracy can lead to.

For Garmin needs a serious lesson in service design. What ought to be a simple update of the maps inside my Nüvi 660 GPS unit has been made into an hour long waste of time. It all started when I tried to purchase the map update:

1. I week before Easter I got an e-mail from Garmin telling me that the Map update 2008 for Europe has been released. I’m a gadget freak, and firmware and map updates are the salt of my tech life. The mail pointed me to the (very badly designed) Garmin website.

2. At the Garmin website I had to enter the serial # of my GPS unit to find out what update to get. Bad funnel design here – why not just show me a picture of the different units to make it easy for me to spend some dough? Luckily for Garmin, I had the unit with me.

3. I found the right update, and the website told me that it could be purchased directly from Garmin. Nice, I thought, and broke out the Visa card.

4. But alas – after putting the update in the shopping cart and entering all my personal info, I found out that Garmin only ships to the US, UK and Ireland. It took me some browsing to find the Danish dealer of Garmin hardware.

5. Nowhere on the website of the Danish Garmin dealer could I find out how to buy the update. A few products were listed – but not the one I was looking for.

6. I Called Garmin Denmark and after being on hold for 5 minutes a guy told me that Garmin Denmark does not sell map updates. The update must be bought in one of the physical dealerships. I apologize to the support guy for being a bit angry at this point – but for Pete’s sake: Why don’t you just write on your web site that you’re your not selling to private customers? Why don’t you compile a list of online shops that sell your stuff?

7. Refusing to waste my time going to a Fona or Merlin store (the Danish equivalents to Radio Shack: They mostly don’t have what you need, and they mostly don’t know anything about what the do have) I managed to find the update on a webshop and ordered it.

8. A DVD sized package should be perfectly able to fit through the letter opening in my front door, but to my surprise the Garmin DVD didn’t arrive. Instead a note from the post office told me that I had to get the package at the local post office. But I have left for Easter holiday and the package had to wait for a week. Those of you that like software updates as much as I do will know that a week is a very long wait.

9. Today – picking up the package – I realized why the postman hadn’t been able to get it through the letter opening: Garmin has for some spaced out reason chosen to wrap the DVD with an A4 sized clam shell (you know: the environment damaging PVC packaging that’s impossible to open without shredding your fingers to pieces). So, absolutely unnecessary packaging delayed the DVD a week.

10. After using a pair of heavy duty scissors I got the DVD out from its casing without blood shed and booted it up. It immediately halted with an error message saying that the setup program couldn’t detect an active internet connection (and such is needed). All I could do was to cancel the setup. Now, all other programs had no problem finding the internet connection – the pc was as online as ever. After 30 minutes of trial and error and searching the internet for help (using my supposedly non-existing internet connection), I found out that some setting deep inside Internet Explorer had to be changed for the Garmin update DVD to see the connection.

Now: The only reason that this connection had to be available was for the DVD to check my Garmin registration number with Garmin’s servers. So 30 minutes of my time was wasted because a product WHICH I LEGALLY BOUGHT needs validation. Arrgh. Of course the problem with the missing internet connection isn’t mentioned on Garmin’s support pages although more than one GPS forum mentions it. I guess Garmin’s employees doesn’t read the forums in which their loyal customers discuss Garmin products. Why should they…

11. Finally – after me tweaking Internet Explorer, the setup program continued – just to grind to a halt again when the DVD suddenly couldn’t find my Garmin unit. Strange, because the unit was perfectly connected to the pc, though, and the screen of the Nüvi shows the “connected to a pc” picture. The Garmin website suggests that I try another USB port – I do. No go. I try another USB cable. No go.

It turned out that the unit conflicted with a network drive letter on my pc. Thank god I’m not a pc novice – a lot of users wouldn’t have been able to locate this error (when did YOU last check your locigal disk setup using the Disk Manager inside Computer Management inside the Control Panel?). Of course: It’s not Garmin’s fault that I have a network drive called G:, but again: This must be a very common problem and Garmin does not mention it on the support pages on its website. And the moronic setup program does not suggest any way of solving the problem – all I can do is to press “Exit”.

12. Finally: The GPS is connected, its firmware updated and the unit restarted. I entered the validation code for the map (located on the jewel case of the DVD), and … the updater halted again. The server which was to validate my validation vode is down. “Please try again later” it says. All I can do is press Exit. I’ll just have to wait until some geek in the US gets the server up and running again.

13. By now, I was pissed. I bought this product (although it was hard to find) and now it seems that I’m not allowed to use it. So I wan’t to write to the Garmin support and tell them that their software sucks. But fortunately for the poor supporters, the support site crashes when I try to access the mail form…

Dear Garmin. This is not the way to do it. It’s not OK to be more concerned with copyright laws and data safety than to the user’s experience. An update procedure for an expensive product must be tested over and over again to make sure that the user (all users – not just a geek like me) can complete the procedure.

Multiple pieces of software, services, support functions and content has to play together to ensure a nice user experience. The service has to be designed all the way for the user to be satisfied. If that is impossible (and it seems that it is to Garmin) then at least let go of the paranoia and all the safety measures and focus on providing decent support all the way through the update. In that way the installation procedure will be simple and less prone to errors. All you do is irritating legit customers. The pirates will find a way through anyhow.
Now – after spending almost two hours and waiting for that quirky validation server to wake up – the setup procedure finally runs and is updating my GPS unit. Meanwhile it shows me ads for motorcycle GPS units (Why? I have a GPS unit – that’s why I’m updating it – morons!) and reminding me, that the little blob on the GPS screen that indicates my whereabouts can be changed to another kind of 3D vehicle. Gosh.

If all that energy had just been used on testing and improving the setup procedure and updating the support pages.

25 Responses to “Garmin fails miserably on user experience and service design”


  1. 1 Christian Güttler

    :-D Thanks Klaus for this very entertaing post! I must admit that I have a Garmin Nüvi my self and also saw the mail, went to the website but realized that the update wasent for my 200 series. (Thanks Garmin for sending me a mail about an update to a product I dont own!) But maybe it was my luck after all, hearing about your experinces.

  2. 2 Klaus Silberbauer

    Uhm, yes. Wonder why they don’t do some segmentation on that e-mail? I mean: As far as I remember the product registration asks for your units serial no., and so Garmin is aware what unit you own.

    It’s a real pitty that the after sales-experience is so buggy. Because – and this is important to stress – the product itself is great! I use my Nüvi almost every day and I’m very satisfied.

  3. 3 Michael

    Hi,
    Im running into the same internet connection issue that you mention above. However I cannot find the forum that mentions what settings in explorer need to be changed. I’ve been pulling the little bit of hair I have left out. If you could help guide me that would be soooo appreciated.
    Thanks!!!!

  4. 4 Klaus Silberbauer

    Hi Michael

    Typical me: I rave like a maniac, but doesn’t explain how to solve the problem, sorry! Here goes:

    Somehow the Garmin program asks Internet Explorer, if the computer is online. IE answers “no”, unless the “Automatically detect settings” checkbox is checked. You can find it here:

    Control panel > Internet Properties > Tab: Connections > Button: LAN Settings > Check ‘Automatically detect settings’.

    Also, your Garmin device must be visible as a drive letter. If not, your Garmin may conflict with a networked drive letter. Gå to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer management > Disk Manager and change the drive letter of the Garmin device.

    Good luck.

  5. 5 Paul

    I have been through the same horror show as you. Go figure, a few weeks ago I purchased the 2008 update for $69.00 Now they released the 2009 update. It’s a pitty they rape us with the cost of a GPS and they rape us again to keep it up to date.

    GPS units are rapidly dropping in price which is great. With Garmins service as it is,,,,,,, I’m not dropping any more money in there laps.

    Garmin,, You need to change your ways,, real bad!!!

  6. 6 Klaus Silberbauer

    Nooo – the 2009 is out? Pretty early isn’t it? Bugger!

    It’s such a shame, because the hardware is really nice – but I get this feeling that Garmin is just trying to get too much money out of my pocket.

    I think I’m going Tomtom the next time – the Mapshare thing sound pretty nice.

  7. 7 D Waggoner

    Thank you Mr. Silberbauer . . . map download worked just fine after auto detection toggled! Was on que for Garmin customer support for 45 minutes; hmmmm, sounds like a technical problem . . . will put you ahead of “the line”, which was as promised. Tech said sounds like a problem with my computer; will transfer you to someone who knows everything there is to know about anything — well, he put me back in que for original cust support for about 90 minutes, at which time I assume “they closed” ‘cuz it was 7p central, but of course the hold message continued. Then my son had the bright idea of googling the problem and voila, we run across Mr. Silberbaums comments. Thank you.

    Maybe Garmin needs to outsource to India . . . did I write that?

  8. 8 Yolanda

    Bought their 2009 maps update :-(

    I have the same internet connection issue when trying to update with 2009 maps. I tried the things you suggested (below). Still out of luck. What a lousy product support. arrgh…so frustrated…Wasted 3 hours waiting on their support line …my problem still persists.

    Control panel > Internet Properties > Tab: Connections > Button: LAN Settings > Check ‘Automatically detect settings’.

    Also, your Garmin device must be visible as a drive letter. If not, your Garmin may conflict with a networked drive letter. Gå to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer management > Disk Manager and change the drive letter of the Garmin device.

  9. 9 Vladimir

    Yes, it looks I have the same problem with not recognizing connection, and even updating Internet Settings. maybe there is something else there. Anyway, I have bought Garmin 580 only yesterday, possibly need to suffer a little more.

  10. 10 Vladimir

    Suggestion. It found connection after I have rebooted computer. Then after couple of horrible exceptions ‘disk not found’, I am moving data to Garmin.

  11. 11 Vaughan

    I’ve had an identical problem as well … but have now resolved it, and have just successfully loaded the City Navigator Europe NT 2008 update onto my Nuvi 660FM.

    My PC system is Windows XP Home with SP3 and using IE7. I disabled all firewall and AV software, and also closed down all non essential programs running in the background.

    Garmin Tech Support had previously given me a long list of stuff to try, but nothing worked, even after they sent me the DVD disk to try.

    What eventually worked for me was a very simple change … it was to UNCHECK the box in Tools > Internet Options > Connections > LAN settings which offers to “automatically detect settings”.

    After doing that, everything worked smoothly, although it does take a very long time – about 2.5 hours, as the DVD has to copy the map update files to your PC hard drive, and then copy these across to your Garmin.

  12. 12 Garmin nüvi

    On my mind, garmin is the best navigator. I have been using tomtom for a while, but Garmin nuvi 770 is much better!

  13. 13 Tom

    Little late maybe, but have not read this until today. Now I will not suggest anyone to travel all the way to Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman, but thats were you get very good service. Arriving there I already had a Garmin Nuvi 660 with Europe / Scandinavia maps installed. Then I purchased an Oman / Middle East map at Garmin in Muscat early this year. They offered to come to my home with the map, at no charge, just to free me from finding their shop. However, I went to the shop, and they immediately said, “shall we install it for you sir”? “We will not charge you for that, but we know it can be a little tricky”!
    I accepted there offer and within 20 minutes everything was up and running. They even gave me a cable, which I had forgotten to bring from Europe, free of charge. My thanks and sincere compliments to Garmin in Muscat for their good service.

  14. 14 kiwidoc

    Well its just such a stupid business model. In this age why do we have to wait for a physcial product to update a piece of software? I run garmin XT on a pda phone. The official garmin way is for that to be delivered on a 2 gig card. I have a 16 gig card for all the music I like to listen to while driving. Needless to say the unofficial ways to get it installed are easier.
    I’m off to Denmark for a onference and will be there for 4 days, surely any sensible business would let me pay my money to download a city map of Copenhagen, even put a tim expiy on it. Nope, expected to go throught the hassle of buying a small card to replace my large card in my phone. So…
    I don’t think Garmin will survive as a company if they can’t understand that the world is online. I’ll give them til 2012 then they’ll go bust.

  15. 15 Klaus Silberbauer

    Well, I do find that Garmin’s products are pretty ok. My 660 has worked for years. The GUI is nice and simple, and it just always works.. It’s only the service part that’s lacking.

    I agree that all updates should be done online, though. 2GB isn’t that much of a download these days.

  16. 16 Bob

    After getting hung up on the “no internet connection” response during the updating of the CNNA 2010 map, I talked to a couple of IT guys at work. During the conversation, the question of whether I had disabled my software firewalls came up. Of course, I had done that (of course, of course). But then, it occurred to me that perhaps my hardware firewall might be causing the problem. Came home, got into the hardware firewall configuration menu, and allowed the computer on which (or through which) I was attempting to conduct the update to be directly connected to the internet (by disabling the “DMZ” protocol for that computer).

    Voila. The update worked like a charm.

    The guys at work had suggested I connect directly to the internet (bypassing the router), but that would have involved moving some equipment.

    But that might work for some of you.

    My router is a Linksys WRT54G.

  17. 17 Klaus Silberbauer

    I must say that Garmin is shaping up. Now the mygarmin.com website will recognize your unit (you have to install a small plugin though, but it works flawlessly), and let you upgrade firmware and maps directly to your unit. Nice.

  18. 18 Klaus Silberbauer

    Hmm… Went ahead and bought the 765t. I should have stuck with my 660, though. Here’s why:

    - The 765t features 3D buildings, but you don’t need them And they slow down the map redraw. They can be turned off, though.

    - The map rendering is painstakingly slow. And the map redraws from scratch all the time. Not ok. I guess that’s the price to pay for nice anti-aliasing and smooth graphics. Give me fast rendering, any time, please.

    - The eco-route-thing is utterly useless. Who wants to spend 50% more time driving to save a few bucks? This is eco-nonsense.

    - You can’t(!) turn off the damn beep everytime you touch the screen without turning off all sounds. This was possible on the 660. OMG, WHY HAS THIS CONTROL BEEN REMOVED??

    - Worst of all: Garmin has chosen to save some bucks on the LCD screen. It’s quite clearly of bad quality. Compared to the 660 it’s rubbish. About one out of ten time you press the screen it screws up the coordinates and prints another letter than you’ve pressed. And not just the letter besides the one you pressed, no, a completely random letter. This is not OK for a unit in that price range.

    Nice stuff:

    - Custom routes.
    - Text to speech in Danish (at last)
    - Maps seems reasonably up-to-date (and the 60 days map guarantee works)

    It seems like Garmin has trown together this unit just to get something out there. If you have a 660 or something like it: Don’t bother upgrading. Buy a new map and enjoy your old unit for one more year.

    Newt time it WILL be a Tomtom for me.

  19. 19 Nathan Brazil

    Klaus says:

    “I must say that Garmin is shaping up. Now the mygarmin.com website will recognize your unit (you have to install a small plugin though, but it works flawlessly), and let you upgrade firmware and maps directly to your unit. Nice.”

    Unless you are using IE 8 and have Data Excution Prevention turned on in Windows XP (SP3). In that case, Windows tells you that it closed IE to prevernt a malicious or broken plug-in from using memory incorrectly. ARrrrggghhh!!!

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