Kapten: voice-activated urban navigation gets a start in France

Officially launched today in Paris, France, Kapten (€179) is a totally new kind of GPS-enabled consumer electronics device: the size of an iPod nano, with a few buttons but without screen, it is completely voice-activated. Kapten, made by a start-up company called Kapsys is first and foremost a navigation device (with turn-by-turn voice prompted instructions) for walking, bicycling and driving.

For pedestrians Kapten offers a multimodal feature calculating a route with peri-urban trains and metro lines in large cities (50 cities in France) and also offering self-service bicycle stations as point of interest. However, the solution does not integrate bus lines and the Tele Atlas map data used in this device is not fully pedestrian friendly being much more a map database for car navigation used for pedestrian than a dedicated pedestrian map. But the device integrates a magnetometer (for heading) and an accelerometer. Kapsys is still tweaking these sensors to make the best out of it: future releases of the Kapten firmware will have improvements both in the navigation (dead reckoning in urban canyons) and in battery life.

Geotagging, MP3, FM and Bluetooth hands free kit

But Kapten is also a geo-tagging device, allowing the user to tag locations with voice memos and share them online with other Kapten’s users on a community website. The online software, KAP-manager, allows to download updates (GPS ephemeris, new train and metro lines, etc.), and to buy additional content such as GPS-triggered Audio guides (from PocketVox/Navigaia) or additional maps for other European cities. The cost of these maps is particularly attractive: €4.90 per city.

Additionally, Kapten integrates a voice-activated MP3 player (3GB memory is unoccupied), FM radio and Bluetooth hands-free kit for mobile phones. Battery life (830 mA) is about six hours with the GPS activated.

To build this device Kapsys has been working with well known partners: TeleAtlas for map data, SiRF for GPS (SiRF StarIII Instant Fix) and Nuance for voice recognition. The voice recognition software, which is the corner stone of this product, is working particularly well. For the most complex destinations a spelling mode is also available so as to eliminate any risk of not getting understood by the software. Buttons displayed on the device allow to skip certain menus and shortcuts can be pronounced to speed up some processes during the voice interaction.

Kapsys, based out of Sophia Antipolis in Southern France, is a 20 people start-up founded by Aram Hekimian in the summer of 2007. Mr. Hekimian has been the co-founder and CEO of wireless modem company Wavecom between 1994 and 2004. So far Hekimian invested his own money in this new venture even if he expects soon or later he will have to raise additional funds from venture capital firms.

Kapsys has already signed distribution deals with retailers in France (including FNAC, who is the biggest consumer electronics chain) and online stores. The first product should be on the shelves in France in October said the company, and deals in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy should follow thereafter.

The customer target is clearly 30 to 50 years old urban people who use a large variety of transport modes and like new technologies. At this stage it is quite difficult to know if Kapten will be a consumer success. It seems the device has been really thought through and through both at hardware and software levels by skilled engineers. The whole marketing and packaging is also well executed, positioning the product as a lifestyle device rather than a commoditized navigation solution. However, with this launch Kapsys is not only willing to define a new consumer electronics segment but also the way people interact with portable devices. Each one is a challenge by itself.

Watch here our video interview with Kapsys CEO and founder Aram Hekimian.

Clear Channel expands RDS-TMC traffic coverage to 95 U.S. markets

Clear Channel Radio’s Total Traffic Network (CCTTN), a U.S. provider of real time traffic data, today announced an expansion to its service over RDS-TMC for in-dash and personal navigation systems from 80 to 95 metropolitan areas.

“Our real-time traffic service has seen an explosion in momentum this year with paid subscribers to the service reaching a milestone of 500,000, providing traffic info to Volvo models, Mio Technology expanding their relationship with us, ASUS arming their first PND with our data — and now our expansion into 15 more markets,” said Jeff Littlejohn, Executive Vice President of Distribution Development for Clear Channel Radio.

The additional markets include Binghamton, NY; Charleston, SC; El Paso, TX; Grand Rapids, MI; Honolulu, HI; Melbourne, FL; Mobile, AL; Modesto, CA; Oklahoma City, OK; Panama City, FL; Pensacola, FL; Spokane, WA; Stockton, CA; Tallahassee, FL; and Tuscaloosa, AL.

Clear Channel delivers real-time traffic data via in-car (BMW, MINI USA, and Volvo all offer TTN as a standard, subscription-free service) or portable navigation systems (ASUS, Garmin, TomTom, Navigon, Mio Technology, Delphi, Kenwood, Clarion, Harmon Kardon, Panasonic, Siemens, Cobra Electronics and others), broadcast media, wireless and Internet-based services.

TomTom completes Tele Atlas acquisition, reshuffles management

TomTom today declared its $4.3 billion takeover bid of digital mapmaker Tele Atlas was finalized and decided to make a number of management changes related to this acquisition. TomTom will propose to appoint Alain De Taeye, CEO and founder of Tele Atlas, as a member of the Management Board of TomTom. Alain De Taeye is expected to “focus on strategy and business development giving TomTom and Tele Atlas continued access to his vast experience and industry knowledgeâ€?, said the public statement.

Additionally, Alexander Ribbink will step down as Chief Operating Officer and member of the Management Board of TomTom on his own request “to pursue other interests outside TomTomâ€?, said the Dutch company.

George Fink, President and COO of Tele Atlas since 2002, will step down as a member of the Management Board of Tele Atlas and resign his position of President and Chief Operating Officer of the map maker.

Tele Atlas will propose to appoint Bill Henry as new CEO. Bill Henry has more than 20 years of management experience running global technology companies. Formerly, he was COO at iSOFT where he oversaw the company’s merger with IBA Health in 2007. Before that he held the position of CEO of Star Technology Services, provider of messaging security services.a division of Message Labs Group. He has also held executive roles at PeopleSoft, Bellcore/Telcordia Technologies, Sprint and Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC).

The most surprising news in this management reshuffle is the departure of Alexander Ribbink. Harold Goddijn, CEO of TomTom sees this departure “with regretâ€?; however Ribbink has committed to remain a member of the Supervisory Board of Tele Atlas where he was elected in December 2007.

Ribbink joined TomTom in 2003 to lead TomTom’s marketing when the company launched the TomTom GO, its first personal Navigation Device (PND), on the European market. He was appointed Chief Operating Officer in 2004.

Nav N Go iGO 8 available for Windows smartphones in Europe

Navigation software editor Nav N Go has started this month to distribute its software package for Windows Mobile touchscreen devices in Europe. After launching locally in Hungary last month, the Budapest-based company signed a first distribution agreement in France with Bluetrade, a wholesaler of mobile solutions for the B2B and B2C market, specializing in the distribution of Smartphones and accessories for mobile devices.

The product is available in a box which includes a 2GB microSD card (with miniSD and standard SD card adaptors) preloaded with Nav N Go iGO 8 3D navigation software, along with a Quick Start Guide in 27 different languages and a DVD containing the update tool Content Manager Application, the user manual and full map content for 43 European countries. With a clear, intuitive and easy to use interface, Nav N Go iGO 8 features a ‘simple’ mode for less experienced users, and an ‘expert’ mode for the more advanced.

The package will retail at €149.

Node rolls out Location based tourism experiences in the UK

UK-based Node, a developer of location-based media players, today announced partnerships with five leading tourism destination across United Kingdom. Node is currently running at the London Zoo, Stourhead Gardens (a UK National Trust landmark) and is expected to roll out to the Eden project (one of the most visited tourism attraction in the UK with 1.5 million visitors a year) as well as in two further unannounced London locations this summer.

More than a device

Node provides a comprehensive solution for tourism destinations looking to offer a location-based multimedia device to its visitors. The Node Explorer is a Linux-based, ruggedized, Wi-Fi and GPS-enabled multimedia player.

This device synchronizes with a web-based server that stores all the content relevant to the site and manages customer data. Administrators of the solution manage all contents of the location-based experience through a web interface. Video, audio and images, maps, location triggers and the building of interactive menus are all uploaded and defined through a standard web browser.

Catherine Halcrow, Head of Interpretation at the Zoological Society of London, explained why they chose Node: "After assessing all the handheld media platforms on the market, ZSL decided to partner with Node as it stood out in the following areas, all key to our needs – robustness and ease of use of the Explorers for the outdoor environment, the speed at which our own teams could update the experience and the Node team’s commitment to producing original and high-quality content and their commitment to making the partnership work. Most of all we felt we had a shared vision in making an engaging experience for the Zoo’s visitors."

Node recently received an award from the U.S. National Association of Television Program Executives’ (NATPE) as part of the NATPE Mobile++ Top 12 Awards. Node is managed and owned by its founding management team and its institutional investor, London-based Active Private Equity.

Mio brings connected local search to new PNDs in Europe

Yesterday, at the CEBIT trade show in Germany, Mio unveiled its new European range Mio Moov with three products Moov 370, Moov 330, Moov 200 (Moov 330 and Moov 200 are available with one country map or full European maps). Both the Moov 370 (€279.99) and the Moov 330 (€229.99 for Europe or €179.99 for one region) offer Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone calls and the option to perform a local search via the mobile phone (with a data plan). Mio has set up partnerships with local mobile search providers in key European countries to enable this “MioMore” service. Users of the Moov 200 ((€179.99 for Europe or €149.99 for one region) will have the possibility to search online from their desktop and transfer the POIs via USB to their device.

The Moov products also feature a new software, legacy of the Navman acquisition last year. Previously known as SmartST, this navigation software now integrates 1,000 3D city landmarks from Tele Atlas. These new PNDs will be available across Europe in April.

Exit Nav N Go

As a result of using the “Navman” software, the company will be doing significant savings, the Nav N Go software license costing the company an estimated $5 to $8 per unit. Obviously this is not good news for Nav N Go. Mio is its biggest customer, accounting for around 15% of its revenue as Nav N Go CEO, Leon van De Pas, told GPS Business News in January.

However the Nav N Go software is still used by Mio today for its upper end product range that features navigation with 3D buildings in addition to 3D landmarks. Mio declined to comment on its software plans for this product range moving forward, but one might expect the Mio software team based in New Zealand to be working on a full 3D software that could replace the Nav N Go solution.

North American market

However the new products announced at CEBIT are not planned to be launched in North America. Other products will be available in the United States: Moov 200, 210, 300 and 310 with 3.5 to 4.3 inches screen sizes and prices from $179,95 to $249.95. Mio expects them to be available on the shelves in six weeks from now.

But none of these products feature Bluetooth and the connected local search option. Kiyoshi Hamai, director of sales and product management at Mio in the United States said to GPS Business News today: “what we have seen so far from our U.S. customers is that they have more basic needs than in Europe. The need for more advanced features will come overtime, but today the bulk of our sales is really in the entry level. The U.S. market is still two to three years behind Europe in terms of market maturity.”

Multiplayer location-based Gaming gets real: interview with La Mosca

GPS Business News interviewed with Kristof Van den Branden, founder of La Mosca, an editor of location-based games located in Ghent, Belgium.

GPS Business News: Kristof, can you tell me how you started your game company La Mosca?

Kristof Van den Branden: I started on my own in May 2005. The first game I began programming was The Target in December 2005. In October 2006 I founded La Mosca and our first game was launched in May 2007. The Target is a multi-players location-based game. It is a pursuit game. A dangerous gangster has just escaped from prison. Three policemen are sent to catch the man before he manages to commit enough crime, collect €1,000,000 and leave the city. The gangster has to steal virtual objects that are located all over the city to be able to commit the crimes: a knife, a rope ladder, explosives, etc. Every time he steals an object or commits a crime, however, the police find out. This ensures the gangster leaves a trail of his activities in the city that can be followed. It is a very advanced game with real time positioning using the internet connection of the phone. But The Target is not the only game we have developed. We have launched four other games in 2007: Codecrackers, CityTracks, Treasure of the Monk and City Team Conquest.

GPS BN: How do you distribute these games?

KVdB: Our approach is that people go to game centers (where people play videogames on PCs) and Internet cafes and they can rent devices with the game. Right now we rent Nokia 6110 Navigator handsets and our Java games (J2ME midlets) are preloaded on the phone. Our customers rent them for 2 hours to play with their friends. A lot of games are played on Saturdays and during the week in the evenings.

We started with two cities in Belgium and now we have expanded to two other Belgian cities, then in Holland in five cities. We got a lot of media coverage, attention and word of mouth. Now we have an average of one game played every day in every game center. We are also expanding to France and other European countries. In February we will have first: a game center opening in Leuven, Belgium — a city with a lot of students — entirely dedicated to location-based gaming.

GPS BN: who are the players?

KVdB: There are two types of customers: the first type is individuals: a bunch of friends that want to have fun for a couple of hours. But we also have event agencies that integrate our games in their offer for team building and other corporate activities. The game is a part of the events they organize for big companies such as IBM, Kodak or Canon. These days most of our revenue comes from event agencies. We add a new agency to our customer portfolio almost every week. As an example, last week we had a group of 130 people from the same company playing our game “code crackers” in Paris.

GPS BN: How much does it cost to play?

KVdB: If you go to a game center it is €90 per group and per game. A group is about 10 to 12 people. Event agencies do not have the same pricing: they invoice about €45 to €50 per player, but they manage devices, the game and have people on-site, this takes them more resources that the game itself.

GPS BN: How does it work for the devices, do you buy them?

KVdB: Not at this time. Nokia has become a sponsor since August 2007, so they give us devices to get visibility. We are now in talks with Nokia France and Lithuania to extend this partnership. If we do not have this kind of partnership, then we let the game center buy the devices.


uLocate launches GPS widget platform with metroPCS

Ulocate communications today announced that its GPS widget platform “Where” is now available with the U.S. wireless operator metroPCS. Where costs $2.99 per month and is currently compatible with five metroPCS phones. MetroPCS has over 3.6 million subscribers in the United States.

This is the fourth U.S. wireless operator signed by Ulocate after Sprint, Alltel and Boost Mobile.

Buddy Beacon

In a separate news last week, uLocate announced their acquisition of the Buddy Beacon name from U.S wireless operator Helio. Introduced by Helio in partnership with uLocate in 2006, Buddy Beacon is a friend finder application. With this acquisition ulocate will be able to extend its Buddy Beacon service to other wireless operators. Buddy Beacon will be available on the Where platform and as BREW and Java applications.

Via Michelin to stop its PND business

According to news published earlier today in France, Viamichelin will stop to produce its own portable navigation systems.

In the inner circles of European PND manufacturers it was well known that the brand, subsidiary of the tire maker, was losing money due to the lack of real market share and high marketing spendings. In 2007 its European market share was below five percents everywhere except in France, its historical market, where the company had a market share of more than ten percents. Additionally Viamichelin started to sell its products in 2007 in the United States, but its distribution remained limited. The announcement made today is the logical conclusion of this situation.

According to our information, the company would refocus its activities on providing services (real time traffic data, points of interests from the digital edition of the famous Michelin guide, etc…) to other PND manufacturers. However, Viamichelin is today looking for a manufacturing partner to keep its brand alive on the market. Navigon could become this partner according to news from CNET France.

The consolidation is therefore moving forward on the PND market, following on the acquisition of Navman by Mitac (in March 2007) and its final merger with Mio announced this week.

GARMIN nominates Eric Bernard as General Manager Garmin France

Garmin has announced the appointment of Eric Bernard as General Manager for its French office. This nomination follows the purchase by Garmin,in January 2007, of its French distributor EME TecSat.

Prior to joining Garmin, Eric Bernard (43 years old) worked as Southern Europe sales Director for Handspring. He also managed European Sales Development for Navigon.

Dan Bartel, Garmin Vice President Global Sales, states: « Eric Bernard solid worldwide management experience coupled with his knowledge of the consumer GPS market will accelerate Garmin sales growth in the French market.”