Garmin Ltd., incorporated in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, is the parent company of a group of companies founded in 1989 by Gary Burrell and Min Kao (hence the name GarMin), that develops consumer, aviation, and marine technologies for the Global Positioning System. Its subsidiary Garmin International, Inc. serves as headquarters for the Garmin Limited companies and is located in Olathe, Kansas, which is located in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area in the United States. The largest operating subsidiary and primary production facility of Garmin Limited is Garmin (Asia) Corporation, located in Sijhih City, Taiwan, a suburb of Taipei.
By 1995 Garmin’s sales had reached $105 million, and had achieved a profit of $23 million. By 1999 sales had reached $233 million and profit of $64 million. Garmin reported a 2006 total revenue of $1.77 billion, up 73 percent from $1.03 billion in 2005.
By 1999 the company’s products had captured about half of the North American market share of GPS receivers used in marine and outdoor recreation markets, according to a market study conducted by Frost and Sullivan. Its own internal estimates showed that its aviation retrofit products had 59% market share, and that its portable aviation GPS products had 76% of the market.
Burrell retired in 2003 as Garmin’s Chief Executive Officer and in 2004 retired as Chairman of its Board of Directors. He is now Chairman Emeritus. Kao became CEO in 2003, and Chairman in 2004.
In 2005 Forbes Magazine estimated Kao’s net worth at $1.5 billion. He has donated $17.5 million to the University of Tennessee. The same year Forbes estimated Burrell’s net worth as $940 million.
By 2000 Garmin had sold three million GPS devices, and was producing 50 different models. Its products were sold in 100 countries and carried by 2,500 independent distributors. As of 22 August 2000, the company held 35 patents on GPS technology. By the end of June 2000, the company employed 1,205 people: 541 in the United States, 635 in Taiwan, and 29 in the United Kingdom.
The company began public trading on NASDAQ on 8 December 2000. At that time Burrell owned 19,911,155 shares. Kao owned 20,352,803 shares. Together their holdings accounted for 45 percent of the stock in Garmin. Kao’s brother, Ruey-Jeng Kao, an attorney in Taipei, owned another 7,984,109 shares, which when combined with Burrell’s and Kao’s shares constituted 54.22 percent of the shares outstanding.
In August 2003 Garmin completed acquisition of UPS Aviation Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of United Parcel Service, Inc., expanding its product line of panel-mounted GPS/NAV/COMM units and integrated cockpit systems for private and commercial aircraft. The acquired company changed its name to Garmin AT, Inc. and continued operations as a wholly owned subsidiary of Garmin International, Inc.
Garmin has acquired Dynastream Innovations, EME Tec Sat SAS (EME), and Digital Cyclone. Dynastream, located in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada, is a leader in the field of personal monitoring technology (ANT+) — such as foot pods and heart rate monitors for sports and fitness products — and is also a leading provider of ultra-low-power and low-cost wireless connectivity solutions for a wide range of applications (ANT). EME Tec Sat SAS (EME) is the distributor of Garmin's consumer products in France; following the acquisition, EME will change its name to Garmin France SAS. Digital Cyclone Inc (DCI), located in Chanhassen, Minnesota, provides mobile weather solutions for consumers, pilots, and outdoor enthusiasts. Garmin also bought Nautamatic Marine Systems, an Oregon-based company that makes autopilot systems for boats.
The company’s first product was the GPS 100, a panel-mounted GPS receiver aimed at the marine market, priced at $2,500. It debuted at the 1990 International Marine Technology Exposition in Chicago. The product was an instant hit and generated a backlog of orders for 5,000 units. In response to the demand thus created, Kao traveled (January 1991) to Taipei to set up manufacturing facilities.
Another early product, a handheld GPS receiver, proved popular with military personnel serving in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. In the early 2000s, Garmin launched a series of personal GPS devices aimed at recreational runners called the Forerunner. A similar wrist-worn GPS device with two dimensional GPS tracking and waypoint projection called the Garmin Foretrex is popular among day hikers, off-road mountain bikers, and sailboat racers.
A late-model Garmin eTrex H showing a solid fix from multiple satellites.
One of the most popular of the Garmin handheld GPS receivers, the compact eTrex series, was introduced in 1998. Within the eTrex line are several models packaging several different features and options. The original eTrex, commonly nicknamed "eTrex Yellow", was a sensation when it first appeared, as it offered a lightweight (5.3 oz/150 g), waterproof, palm-sized 12-channel GPS receiver to backpackers, hikers, and others afoot in remote areas, along with a battery life of up to 22 hours on just two AA-size batteries. The eTrex 'Yellow' was replaced in 2007 by the eTrex H, which added a high-sensitivity receiver. Other more advanced eTrex models include the Summit, Venture, Legend, and Vista, each with various additional features such as WAAS, altimeter, digital compass, city database, and highway maps. Many models come in color and expandable-memory versions.
The Geko series is a later compact line of handheld GPS receivers aimed at the budget or lightweight hiking market.
In 2004 Garmin introduced its 60C line of handheld GPS mapping receivers, featuring increased sensitivity and storage capacity along with a battery life of up to 30 hours in battery-save mode. This was followed by the 60Cx and 60CSx with improved color map displays. The 60Cx and 60CSx have been used as primary navigational tools on several adventure and exploration trips to remote areas around the world, including a rafting expedition down the entirety of the Amazon River in 2008.
With the GTM-11, GTM 20 and GTM 25, a Garmin GPS device receives and uses Traffic Message Channel (TMC) information. Also, some Garmin nüvi (1690, 1490T, 1450T, 1390T, 1390, 1350, 1260, 1250 and 265WT, 265T, 265W, 265, 255w and 255) comes with an integrated TMC receiver.
In October 2005, Garmin released the StreetPilot i-Series, compact GPS navigators which come in three models, i2, i3, i5. The i2 has a monochrome display, and maps need to be loaded on a Transflash card. The i3 is similar to the i2, except it has a color screen. The i5 has a color screen and the maps come preprogrammed into the device. More advanced versions of the StreetPilot include the c-Series, some of which sport large colour touchscreens, FM traffic notifications, support for weather and information updates from MSN Direct, and Bluetooth support.
In October 2006, Garmin began shipping the nüvi 660, a pocketsize widescreen successor to their nüvi 300 series. The 660 added bluetooth, FM transmitter, enhanced screen brightness and screen size, all in a small "flat" size.
Additionally, Garmin's Zumo line is designed specifically for motorcycles. The Zumo 550 and StreetPilot 2610 with slightly different feature sets have been marketed as an OEM offering by BMW for their motorcycles as the BMW Zumo and BMW Navigator III.
Lately Garmin has released its 1000's series which includes the 1690 which incorporates the ability to use Google Local Search to have more up to date Points of Interest and has the ability tap into the 3G network. Garmin has furthered its technology in this field to make one of the thinnest models in the 3700 series as well.
Garmin expanded its presence in the aviation market in 2003 through acquisition of UPS Aviation Technologies, thereby acquiring the latter's II Morrow Apollo line of aircraft MFD/GPS/NAV/COMM units, complementing its existing aviation product line. II Morrow was founded in Salem, Oregon in 1982 as a manufacturer of LORAN C Marine and General Aviation products. In 1982 their first true aircraft navigator, the 602 LORAN C receiver permitted point to point navigation. A good examples of their popular LORAN units are the Apollo II 616B Aviation LORAN panel mount (1886) and the II Morrow Apollo 604 Loran Navigator (1987). One of their more popular early GPS units was IImorrow's Apollo 820 GPS Flybuddy which was shipping in 1991. In 1986, United Parcel Service (UPS) purchased the company to expand the use of electronic technology in the package delivery and tracking business. (Some claim that this departure from the General Aviation marketplace, really enabled Garmin, and gave them a vacuum to fill)