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. ”

TomTom upgrades entry level PND range

TomTom today announced an upgrade to its entry level range of Personal Navigation Devices with the introduction of two new models: TomTom ONE IQ Routes and TomTom XL IQ Routes, respectively priced at €159 and €199 in Europe. Rather than a replacement, these two devices come as an addition to the existing TomTom ONE and TomTom XL which prices are expected to decrease from €20 to €30.

With large inventories still remaining from the Fourth quarter 2008, especially in the United States, TomTom couldn’t replace the existing entry level products now. Therefore it choose to create this “IQ Route Edition” which comes with a slightly different look (a black casing and gray strip is circling the screen) and improved software features which were so far found only in more pricey devices: IQ Routes (historical traffic integrated in the routing algorithm) and lane guidance (see picture).

In Europe these devices will also be available with a 42 countries map license.

Low cost, connected PND in the making?

With these new products TomTom is only doing a minor adjustment in its range. However, we can expect more to come before the summer. Indeed, TomTom set up the goal to sell 1 million connected PNDs before the end of the year. Not surprisingly in this economic downturn, it appears from investigation made by GPS Business News, that its high price connected PNDs are not selling very well. To make this one million target, or at least getting close to it, TomTom will have – sooner than later – to ship a low cost connected PND or a bundle with a power cord integrating this wireless connectivity. This will surely happen before the summer vacations period.

Microsoft sues TomTom

Microsoft Corp. yesterday filed a patent infringement action against TomTom NV and Tom Tom, Inc. (the U.S. subsidiary of the Dutch company), in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and in the International Trade Commission (ITC). Microsoft is seeking damage relief for eight patents, five are specifically about portable navigation devices, while the remaining three cover file management techniques.

Microsoft issued the following statement from Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Intellectual Property and Licensing: “Microsoft has filed an action today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and in the International Trade Commission (ITC), against TomTom NV and TomTom Inc. for infringement of Microsoft patents. We have taken this action after attempting for more than a year to engage in licensing discussions with TomTom. “

“We have an established intellectual property licensing program, and the patents involved in this case, relating to innovations in car navigation technology and other computing functionality, have been licensed by many others. In situations such as this, when a reasonable business agreement cannot be reached, we have no choice but to pursue legal action to protect our innovations and our partners who license them. Other companies that utilize Microsoft patents have licensed and we are asking TomTom to do the same.

“TomTom is a highly respected and important company. We remain open to quickly resolving this situation with them through an IP licensing agreement.â€?

TomTom writes off €1B for Tele Atlas acquisition

PND manufacturer TomTom announced yesterday its financial results for the Fourth quarter and the full year 2008. Quarterly revenue of the Dutch company was down 24% year on year (including Tele Atlas), and TomTom Group recorded a one-off non-cash goodwill impairment charge of €1,048 million, writing down more than a third of the amount paid for Tele Atlas.

During this quarter, revenue was €528 million, Ebitda was €98 million and net profit €70 million. Gross profit margin was 45%, Ebitda margin 19%. TomTom generated €251 million cash flow from operations. The net debt of the company is now €1,109 million, reduced by €213 million (Q3 2008 €1,322 million).

For the full year 2008 TomTom Group revenue was €1,674 million, down 3.6% from 2007 (1,737 million).

PND market decline

According to TomTom, in the Fourth quarter the whole European PND market declined 7% year on year to 4.9 million units and grew sequentially by 19%. In North America the market increased 12% year on year to 8.0 million units which represents sequential growth of 150%.

TomTom shipped 4.443 million PNDs in the quarter, an increase of 76% sequentially (Q3 2008: 2.526 million) and an increase of 4% year on year (Q4 2007: 4.278 million).

The average selling price for TomTom’s PNDs in the fourth quarter was €100, a decrease of 26% compared to the previous quarter (Q3 2008: €136) and a decline of 29% compared to the last quarter of 2007 (Q4 2007: €141). On that topic TomTom said “the sequential decrease in ASP is due to geographical and product mix shifts as well as promotional activities. We expect that the pace of ASP decline will reduce in 2009.”

Market shares were rather stable sequentially; TomTom estimates its share to be 46% in Europe and 23% in North America during the Fourth quarter.

TomTom also gave an update about its PND inventory: “Channel inventory of TomTom PNDs continued to decrease in absolute terms in the past quarter, especially in Europe. However retailers are cautious, and channel inventory still needs to be reduced which will limit our sell in opportunities in the first quarter.”

Tele Atlas: losing ground against NAVTEQ

Tele Atlas results for the full year have been disappointing, as a matter of fact the map maker generated 6% less revenue than in 2007 and an operating loss of €9 million (€1 million last year). While The PND category grew by more than 30% in 2008, its PND map revenue was down 11% and the number of map licenses sold (PNDs, in-dash and other) only grew 8%. Today the mapping company represents only 10% of TomTom’s Group revenue.

Those poor results explain the goodwill impairment charge of €1,048 million. “Tele Atlas is core to the strategy of the group”, explained the press release, “however the worsening macro environment means that currently we cannot sustain the full valuation of the acquired business of Tele Atlas as established at the time of the acquisition.” This €1 billion write off is pretty much in line with what the bidding war against Garmin cost to TomTom. Its first bid for Tele Atlas was €2 billion but after a €2.3 billion offer from Garmin the Dutch company ended up paying €2.9 billion.

In the last quarter of 2008 73% of the map licenses sold by Tele Atlas (6.062 million) were to TomTom (4.443 million PNDs), a 9% increase from a year ago (6.667 million licenses; 4.278 million TomTom PNDs) which underlines the shrinking addressable PND market for Tele Atlas outside of its parent company.

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Augmentra enhances off-road nav software

UK-based Augmentra, the editor of Viewranger outdoor navigation software for mobile phones said today its solution is now compatible with Nokia S60 touch screen phones such as the Nokia 5800. With this new release Augmentra has also enhanced its software to allow over-the-air access to a growing library of navigable leisure route guides. The company has initiated partnerships with content publishers to make their leisure route content available to be searched, browsed and downloaded direct to the handset. The first partner to deliver their content through this platform is walkingworld.com who offers a library of over 4,500 detailed and illustrated walking guides across the UK.

Further enhancements within the software add extensions to ViewRanger’s BuddyBeacon tracking capability. A Buddy Trail is now shown and you can set a BuddyBeacon as a navigation target. ViewRanger has also partnered with Retrieva Tracking Ltd to allow users to track and navigate to their dogs via BuddyBeacon support for Retrieva’s upcoming GPS-enabled dog collar.

To date Viewranger offers the broadest choice in topographic maps with more than 10 countries covered in Western Europe.

TomTom and Renault detail their sub €500 navigation system

In an online chat with the French press today, TomTom and Renault have unveiled more details about their common low-cost in-dash navigation system: Renault Carminat TomTom.

This navigation solution completely integrated into the dashboard will feature a non touch 5.8 inch display activated by a central command or a remote control (depending on the vehicle). Unlike what many might have expected, this navigation device will not be connected in real-time. All online services will be available through a SD card and a computer software called Renault TomTom Home, the equivalent of the existing TomTom Home. Traffic information will be downloaded via RDS-TMC, where this service is available.

The first car to offer this navigation system will be the new Clio to be launched at the forthcoming Geneva Motor Show. Then, the solution will be offered in Megane car models and other Renault cars moving forward. The navigation system will be offered as an option across Europe, Turkey and South Africa.

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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