Mobile Mapping With MapQuest

Consumer demand and mobile technology have finally caught up to MapQuest’s long-time plans. The AOL subsidiary today announced MapQuest Navigator, a GPS navigation service for mobile devices.

Navigator turns a GPS-enabled mobile device into a navigation system similar to the popular in-car systems. Users can access turn-by-turn directions provided by voice, graphics and text.

Jim Greiner, MapQuest general manager, said a product like the Navigator has long been in the company’s plans.

“This is in the DNA of MapQuest,” he said, but mild consumer demand and lagging mobile phone technology kept the company from acting on its vision.

That’s all changing now, Greiner added.

“Right now there are about 20 million GPS-enabled mobile phones. That number is going to increase significantly over the next few years. By 2010/2011, half of all cars will have navigation systems.”

Greiner said mobile technology is finally reaching a point where MapQuest can meet that demand.

Part of the technology catch-up is a credit to MapQuest partner Telmap, Greiner said. According to a MapQuest statement, Telmap provides global geographic coverage for the cellular and automotive world.

In-Stat research analyst Alan Hall thinks MapQuest may be on to something.

He said consumers are ready for an alternative to expensive in-car navigation systems. “Instead of a couple-thousand-dollar add-on,” Hall told, “you’ve got a device you already have with a new service.”

MapQuest also announced improvements to its Web site for Web-enabled mobile phones. They say they’ve improved the design and format to make it convenient for anyone with a Web-enabled phone to access interactive maps, get driving directions and find places.

Hall was less enthusiastic about this particular MapQuest feature.

“How are you going to read it when you’re driving? If you try to read a cell phone when you’re driving,” he said, “I hope I’m not on the road with you.”

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