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Getting Directions from Your Phone

June 1, 2004

Forget about asking for help at gas stations. Your cell phone is rapidly becoming a one-stop source of directions. Over the past year, several startups have launched services that send directions to your phone’s screen and provide a speech interface that reads them as you drive.

In most cases, these services require location information from a separate Global Positioning System receiver plugged into the phone. A lost driver dials up the service, which interprets a spoken description of his or her destination, calculates a route based on the GPS coordinates, and transmits directions back to the phone. New versions eliminate the external GPS receiver: gpware of Menlo Park, CA, plans to introduce a device this summer that includes a GPS receiver and cell-phone technology in a personal-digital-assistant-sized case that can be mounted on a car’s dashboard.

These direction finders are a big step up from the navigation hardware sold with some cars, which uses maps stored on CDs or DVDs that typically need to be changed when a driver visits a new area. And only about 10 percent of new vehicles sold in 2003 had such “onboard navigation” built in, says Phil Magney, principal analyst with the Telematics Research Group in Minnetonka, MN. That leaves plenty of room for “offboard navigation”-cell-phone systems.

The newer technology has advantages, says Magney. “It translates into lower cost compared to what you might buy in a car. It’s go-anywhere, meaning you can take it from your car to a rental car,” and you’re likely getting the most current data, he says. He predicts offboard navigation services will help boost the North American market for wireless in-car systems from $4.9 billion to $18 billion by 2010.

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