French D-Day beaches get GPS tour guide

For the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, an association of local towns in the American sector of the invasion (Sainte Mere l’Eglise, Utah Beach) commissioned a GPS tour guide to visit the beaches and the inland countryside to better understand the events which took place on June 6, 1944.

Created by the French GPS multimedia tour guide company Camineo, the whole project cost was €60,000, reported the local press. The tour is offered on a Windows Mobile PDA from Mio Technologies. The rental cost €8 and is available at the local tourism office.

Based on many unpublished visual documents from the US Army and the Caen Memorial (museum), the tour includes 30 minutes of videos and almost 500 pictures of the invasion, as well as a spoken text from French writer Gilles Perrault, well-known for writing several books on the Normandy invasion and World War II. The guide is available in English and French.

“Having a multimedia guide is particularly interesting because there are many steles in the local landscape with nothing left around to understand the context of the battle,” said Xavier Zimmermann, co-founder and sales director at Camineo.

This GPS-triggered guide offers a first layer of information made of a 3 minutes presentation for each of the places to be visited in the tour; then visitors can dive into more information, quizzes and a full encyclopedia of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

The guide encompasses 11 places scattered along a 50 km loop which starts inland in Sainte Mere l’Eglise. Camineo has been using Tele Atlas raster map data – which allows a zoom between the 1/50,000 to 1/5,000 scales – to guide visitors from one site to another.

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Glympse: location sharing App launched by ex-Microsofties

Unveiled today at the WHERE 2.0 conference is Glympse, an application that allows sharing its real-time location for a definite period of time (maximum 4 hours) with whoever has a web browser, on a PC or on a cell phone.

Glympse was founded in March 2008 in Redmond, Washington, by former Microsoft employees Bryan Trussel, Steve Miller and Jeremy Mercer. “One year ago when we were looking at the location-based services market, there were a couple of unsolved problems we wanted to nailâ€?, explained Bryan Trussel, the CEO of the company. “The most important things were to make the service very simple to use but also to address people’s concern about privacy. This is how we came up with the concept of Glympse.â€?

This service is particularly interesting because it is hassle-free for the person receiving the location: no need to sign up to any network, download whatever application or even have a sophisticated phone: a web browser is enough. From the application side the service is simple (simplistic?) and straightforward: select or enter a phone number or email for one or more contacts, set the duration you want your location to be visible to the recipients, and hit send.

Business model

Glympse has a staff of eight people and has been funded by business angels. “We are not looking for immediate additional funding,“ said Trussel. His business model is relatively standard for a free location-based service: get to a critical mass of users, then sell advertising, premium features on the top of the basic free service and white label licensing to handset manufacturers or wireless operators.

The good thing for Glympse is that they have likely created a viral application: every time you share your location with a new person, you are de facto becoming a marketing volunteer for Glympse. The bad thing is that the technology behind this application is rather simple to replicate. It is likely that many friend finder applications will have soon a Glympse-like feature.

AT&T launches child locator service

Leading U.S. wireless operator AT&T yesterday announced the availability of FamilyMap, a child locator solution. This new tool offers to locate a family member’s phone via web browser on a PC or mobile device. Users can locate up to two phones on an account for a monthly subscription of $9.99, or up to five phones for $14.99 per month. Customers who sign up for the service will receive the first 30 days free.

“More than 60 percent of AT&T wireless customers are part of a family plan or multiple line account, so there’s a considerable number of our subscribers whom we believe will find this service beneficial,” said Mark Collins, vice president of Voice and Data Products for AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets.

FamilyMap is powered by Wavemarket, the American leader in cell phone-based child tracking, which white label service is already used by wireless operators Sprint, Alltel, kajeet (a U.S.-based MVNO), MTS Allstream (Canada) and Vivo (Brazil). Wavemarket is using Microsoft Virtual Earth as a component in its solution.

FamilyMap

The service enables users to see details such as location on a map and surrounding landmarks like schools and parks. Users can also toggle between satellite and interactive street maps. Families can customize their mapping experience by assigning a name and photo to each device within their account, and can also label places they visit frequently, like “Home” or “Soccer Field.”

Through the tool’s schedule checks option, parents can receive alerts at specified times via text or e-mail. For example, parents could request a schedule check every weekday at 4 p.m. to check on their child’s location.

The service is compatible with many AT&T postpaid mobile phones with A-GPS. Compared to Sprint and Verizon’s child locator services the pricing is a bit different. In one hand Verizon Chaperone is the most expensive, costing $9.99 per month and per child. In the other hand, Sprint cut its Family Locator price by half in November 2008 (read more here), allowing the location of up to 4 phones for only $5 per month.

Privacy

AT&T has been setting up several fences to make sure privacy is not at risk with this solution. First, users may locate only phones with which a billing relationship is established – for example, phones that are part of the same wireless account.

Then, all users on the account receive a text message when their phones first become locatable through AT&T FamilyMap, and those users will receive periodic reminders that their phones can be located.

Alternately, the primary account owner has the option of notifying a phone every time location information is requested. Additionally, account owners receive notification when location information for a phone not already being tracked is requested through the application, and he or she can then choose whether to allow the request.

Egypt lifts ban on GPS

The Egyptian National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) issued decisions this month that are ending up the ban on consumer GPS products.

NTRA published a statement on its website explaining: “NTRA Executive Director Dr. Amr Badawy said the decisions allow the import of cars equipped with GPS and navigation programs. NTRA, he added, informed the Customs Authority to act accordingly. The new rules also permit the import of GPS-enabled mobile phones, computers and other devices with civilian applications provided that NTRA authorizes the type of machines based on its criteria and procedures.

Meanwhile, Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) services can only be authorized by NTRA according to specific regulations and in coordination with the concerned security authorities. AVL systems are currently tested in trains and ambulances. The detailed measures of the decisions will be shortly announced on the NTRA website, Dr. Badawy concluded.“

Until now mobile phone manufacturers willing to sell handsets with GPS were forced to deactivate this feature, it was the case for the iPhone 3G and several Nokia handsets such as N96 and N85.

This decision is good news for local wireless operators, manufacturers of handsets and GPS devices and map data providers. Tele Atlas, NAVTEQ and Orion (a Middle-Eastern map provider) are already offering map data for the country. As an example, Tele Atlas maps cover approximately 25,000 kilometers of roads and more than 10,000 Points of Interest.

Taxi booking App wins LBS Challenge

The NAVTEQ LBS Challenges award ceremony took place yesterday at the CTIA trade show in Las Vegas. The winner is T+1 Solutions, an Estonian company which demonstrated Taxi4me, a mobile taxi ordering service that helps consumers connect with trusted taxi companies. The desired time and destination is sent from a user’s mobile phone to a taxi brokering server. Local taxi companies then submit competitive bids and proposed routes back to the consumer.

The three runners-up also selected by the judging panel include: DialPlus Inc, Creativity Software and Colombia Games. DialPlus offers an interesting application that enhances the standard phone call experience by automatically and simultaneously providing dynamic, contextually relevant visual information about the called or calling party before, during and after the call is over.

Creativity Software presented its Rough Guides Mobile Travel Guide, a location aware city guide with user-generated content and social networking features; however there is nothing really new here, since this guide has been available for month (years?) in Europe where it is bundled with Motorola phones. The third runner-up, Colombia Games, demonstrated ToGetThere, a "car pooling-social networking" application.

Disappointment

While the LBS Challenge remains a great event for networking it is unfortunately not anymore at the forefront of the LBS innovation, which is a disappointment.

The iPhone platform — and to a lesser extend Android – is where most of the LBS innovation is taking place today. In limiting developments to a range of non touch screen Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson phones (sponsors of the event), NAVTEQ is unfortunately curbing the reach of its LBS Challenge.

This is not only bad for the quality and the creativity of the applications presented at the Challenge, but also for NAVTEQ as a whole since these iPhone-Android developers are likely to need map data and probably looking for more flexibility than what is offered in standard by Apple and Google.

Location-based gameplay gets started on the iPhone

SGN, self-described as a “social gaming company”, launched last week its latest iPhone game, Agency Wars, a spy thriller with scenario based missions, some of them taking place in the real world thanks to geolocation. Agency Wars has an in-game economy where agents from the CIA, KGB, MI6, Mossad or MSS can buy precious items, aid other agents and improve their skills when fighting rival agencies.

In Agency Wars, users can participate in special missions that are available in their real-world location, utilizing the iPhones GPS feature. Players are sent to specific addresses to complete these missions. Completing a mission in this fashion awards the user with more money and experience than standard missions. “A "trap" feature is also being added that will be implemented soon”, said a SGN representative. “This allows users to place bombs in real-world locations that harms their enemies when they are near this location.”

A previous release of SGN on the iPhone: “Mafia: Respect and Retaliation” uses the same technology to offer geo-location “jobs”. These are very similar to the geo-location missions in Agency Wars. These jobs require the user to visit a certain address to complete them and they yield higher returns than standard jobs.

“In-the-game-LBS” versus location-based gaming

Those are perfect examples of “in-the-game-LBS”, a trend that is just getting started. While pure play location-based gaming (which takes place 100% outdoor) is still in its infancy, it seems location enters the mobile gaming arena through the back door, pushed by game developers who want to spice up their titles with some location-based features.

Nokia has been talking about location in mobile game for — almost — years, but very little — if nothing at all — has been seen on the Symbian, N-Gage platform. However it seems game developers have found in the iPhone the perfect sandbox to develop innovative location-based gameplay.

However like in each category there is the best and the worst on the iPhone App Store. An interesting example of the worst is the iPhone game created by creative agency 65media for FOX Broadcasting to promote the “Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV series in the United States. In this free mobile game – called Terminator Ambush — the iPhone player goal is to survive within a virtual city while sending its location (manually) and avoiding traps set up by online opponents playing from their PCs. It sounds fun on the paper but with only one screen in the game and without a map displaying your location it is not very addictive. The Appleiphoneapps.com’s editor who reviewed the game is summing up is feeling as follows: “ This is a waste of time, money and space. The hired FOX developers should be ashamed and FOX should spend more than $20 on creating its next horrible iPhone marketing tool. ”

Google launches friend finder app Google Latitude

Google today announced a new feature in its Google Maps for mobile: Google Latitude, a friend finder application available immediately in 27 countries and 42 languages, across a wide range of mobile platforms.

Google Latitude requires a Google account to sign in; then the user can easily invite friends from an existing list of contacts or by entering their email addresses. Within Latitude users can call, SMS, IM, or email each other. Latitude is also integrated with Google instant messaging service, Google Talk, as well as iGoogle, a personalized Google web page.

In the same way it does for Google Maps, Google uses for Latitude its geolocation web service, MyLocation, which blends GPS and Wi-Fi (if available on the phone) and Cell-iD. On The PC screen (iGoogle) the location can also be updated via Wi-Fi posiitoning.

Privacy

Because this application can continuously send out the location of the user, Google has been working hard on its privacy settings. As a result, the application offers a wide choice to broadcast the location. It can be set up in automatic mode with the most accurate location, manually, limited to a city level or completely disabled; each of these choices can be defined for a particular friend. In addition to that, friends can of course be banned from the whole application. (Watch the video below for more details).

To avoid the usual “Big Brother” fears, Google also insists on the fact that: “Only the last location sent to Google Latitude – either automatically updated or manually entered – is stored in our servers. If you turn off Google Latitude or hide your location, no location is stored by Google”.

More success than Dodgeball

Interestingly, Google is launching this new service one month after announcing it will shut down Dodgeball, another friend finder service it acquired in 2005 and never bothered to really take to the next level with sufficient investments.

But this time we can expect Google will have more success because it will leverage on the existing Google Maps – and to a certain degree Google Talk – users. In addition to that, and probably even more important, Google will build its user base on the existing partnerships it has developed with wireless operators and handset manufacturers which already offer Google Maps to their customers.

Friend finder versus social network

With the launch of Latitude, competing friend finder applications such as Loopt, Whrrl, WHERE, Brightkite, GyPSii and others will now have some serious competition. Even for the well VC-funded start-up among them, launching in 27 countries and supporting 42 languages on multiple devices is today an unachievable dream.

However, it is important to notice a difference here with Latitude. Indeed, these location-based social networks are more than friend finders because their users can share content: geo-tagged pictures and videos, post-its, reviews, etc… In addition, many of them are open to the big league of web-based social networks such as MySpace and Facebook or blogging platforms such as Twitter. Their users can automatically distribute content and location to their pages across these services.

At the current stage of this market it is difficult to clearly evaluate what users are really looking for among the various services offered by these platforms.

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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.

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.

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.

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