The type of navigation device consumers choose largely depends on their age, a recent study conducted by ABI Research finds.

According to the online survey, which earlier this year polled 750 navigation users in the U.S., personal navigation devices (PNDs), such as mobile phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs), are preferred by those under age 35.

In contrast, consumers older than 35 overwhelmingly chose one- or 2-way connected PNDs, such as those offered by Tom Tom Inc. and Garmin Inc.

“We found significant differences in navigation preferences,” Dominique Bonte, ABI research director, tells Ward’s. “In the younger age group, 65% of them use hand-held PNDs. In older age groups, 90% use connected PNDs. It’s a very significant difference, not just a few percentage points.”

A contributing factor to the discrepancy is the amount of technology acumen possessed by different age groups, Bonte says.

Younger consumers have grown up with cell phones and PDAs and are comfortable using their many functions. Conversely, so-called “plug-and-play” PDAs provide a certain comfort level to older drivers, Bonte says.

With connected PNDs, “you buy them, you start them and they work,” he says. “Whereas phone-based systems have to be configured, and you need a special data plan and carrier, which for many users is far too complicated.”

The study concludes a significantly higher percentage of younger users download search-and-traffic information, a feature often found on phone- or PDA-based systems.

“We’re seeing a trend that younger users are now ready to start using, and paying for, additional services like traffic information,” Bonte says.

The cost of the competing technologies doesn’t really factor into consumer preferences, he says, even though phone-based systems require users to pay monthly installments.

In the future, consumer preferences may begin to merge, as the study shows factory-installed in-dash PNDs are growing in popularity among all age groups.

Today, “factory-installed systems only represent somewhere between 5%-10% of people that use navigation, but there’s growing interest,” Bonte says. “If you look at future preferences of factory-installed navigation, 20% of people say their next navigation system will be built into their vehicles.”

bpope@wardsauto.com