Garmin, the world’s leading provider of GPS equipment, announced their latest shot in the GPS wars. The all-new Garmin GLO is a small gray box that serves as a GPS accessible via a Bluetooth-enabled iPhone or iPad (okay, Android devices, too). This $99 device enables pilots and drivers to keep track of their position without the hassle of adding another screen. The GLO is Apple approved to work with its products.

Interestingly, the GLO uses not only GPS satellites but also the Russian version of GPS called GLONASS — an additional 24 location beacons. This provides rapid location, 20% faster than competing devices. Position updates 10 times per second seems excessive but will certainly be popular for performance junkies. Overall, the additional satellite coverage means more robust positioning.

The GLO’s internal battery lasts for 12 hours, or it can run off ship power (cable included in the aviation bundle).

The real brain behind the Garmin GLO is the very popular Garmin Pilot app. Garmin Pilot is an incredibly powerful piece of kit that enables:

  • weather reporting
  • plan and file flight plans
  • navigation assistance
  • electronic flight bag (fewer pieces of paper to blow away when you open the door)
  • IFR high and low enroute charts
  • VFR sectionals
  • Garmin FliteCharts
  • SafeTaxi diagrams for unfamiliar airports

The GLO Aviation package comes with a 6-month subscription to Garmin Pilot, as well as a mount, power cable and USB cable. The aviation package MSRP: $139. Garmin Pilot costs $9.99 per month or $99.99 for a year’s subscription. Online reviews of the Garmin Pilot app are unfavorable compared to ForeFlight. Hopefully Garmin will take some cues from the competition and iron out the bugs in their app. Even without the software, the GLO is a handy little device.

The GLO seems targeted toward the Dual XGPS150A iPad GPS device that’s proven so wildly popular among pilots in the general aviation community. Like the Dual, the GLO is Bluetooth compatible, easily portable, and runs off battery power or ship power. The GLO is an interesting direction for Garmin.

Clearly Garmin has taken another step toward surrendering the user interface battle. Why would anyone who has ever held an iPad want any other touch-screen interface? Pilots love iPads and Garmin is feeling the heat from the tablet market. The GLO, at $129 for the aviation package, is 20 times less expensive than the top-of-the-line Garmin 796. There’s no reason for Garmin to offer this low-cost entry into their line of avionics products — no reason other than to capture sales from pilots who already have traded in their flight bag for an iPad.

Very few want another gadget to add to the collection they’re already schlepping into the cockpit. But the Garmin GLO is small enough that you can almost forget about it — just make sure it’s mounted somewhere you can confirm the power light is on and you’re good to go. The pricepoint makes the last-generation Garmin GPS devices look excessively priced — for less than $1000 you can buy an iPad bundled with a GLO plus aviation accessories. This is an aggressive stance for a manufacturer that’s focused so fanatically on its own devices complete with touch screen, its own user interfaces. Is Garmin giving up the UI struggle with Apple’s iPad? Only the sales numbers will determine the winner of this struggle.