They can plumb the Internet for the latest movie
times, news headlines, stock figures and gas prices. They'll even
help you skirt traffic, find a parking spot or make a phone call.
Oh, and they'll navigate for you, too.
The latest global positioning system devices on display at this
week's International Consumer Electronics Show are roving
information portals _ well beyond the first turn-by-turn GPS guides
with maps and directions.
Now practically taken for granted, GPS technology is available
for tracking hikers, boaters and pilots and it's routine in cars,
sports watches and cellphones. As a result, plain vanilla portable
navigation devices have plunged below US$200, forcing manufacturers
to fight for ways to continue commanding premium prices. Their
response: to cram as many extra features on the devices as possible.
At CES, Garmin Ltd. announced the Nuvi 880, which debuts in the
second quarter for $1,000, and the 780, out next month for $800.
Both get real-time information from Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Direct
system, which requires a subscription of $50 per year or $130 for
the life of the device. The more expensive model has
speech-recognition so drivers can bark their commands.
As useful as the Microsoft system is, it provides one-way
communication only, from the Internet to the device. Other new
navigation units are harnessing cellular networks to let users send
information back upstream.
For example, the French company Mobile Devices showed a unit that
helps drivers find a nearby parking lot and query whether it has an
The forthcoming Dash Express GPS device will let users conduct
web searches for locations or products, movie times, or the cheapest
gas _ and then it will direct them to the destination.
The $600 gadget by Dash Navigation Inc., created in partnership
with Yahoo Inc., also makes the ambitious promise that it can
combine data from conventional traffic-monitoring systems with the
power of user-based intelligence. The Dash Express will send its
users' speed and location data over the Internet, allowing the
company to calculate up-to-the-minute traffic conditions and suggest
alternate routes. Monthly service fees starting at $10 will be
required for the connected features.
Magellan Navigation Inc., which is partnering with Google Inc. to
provide local business listings on a $1,300 car-navigation unit,
expects to eventually let users send contacts and calendars to their
devices. The systems could automatically route you to your 9 a.m.
appointment, or understand where to direct you when you say, ``Tim
``We want the portable navigation device to be relevant to
everyday life instead of just turning it on to get directions,''
Magellan CEO Nelson Chan said.
In the meantime, even basic maps benefit from all this
connectivity. Now maps and landmarks can be updated after a device
is purchased, reducing the chance a motorist will get foiled by such
earthly matters as road changes and construction.