April 21, 2008
Networks in Motion Enters the World of GPS and Personal Navigation
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor


by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Networks in Motion Enters the World of GPS and Personal Navigation

Guest Review by Michael J. Carroll


The challenge is a big one: Can a device meant to be used in one’s hands also be successful as a hands-free navigating device?


The Motorola cell sat on the passenger seat next to me as I gave it its first test. Empowered by the new Networks In Motion software, and cellularly linked through my AAA membership to the NIM server, the phone was supposed to talk me through ten miles of travel. Fortunately, it was a route I already knew. It was night and it was rainy; and I didn’t really feel like getting lost in the middle of nowhere.


I started with the phone in my hand. I had already entered my destination, a friend’s house in the New Mexico boondocks. I knew that his house was located in a cellular black hole – what exactly would happen as I neared his house? Assuming, of course, the service would even get me that far.


“Turn right onto …” the woman’s voice said clearly, naming the street in front of my house, “then make an immediate left onto …”


So far, so good. I wasn’t quite ready to put the phone down.


Pulling up to a stop sign – “turn right onto …” – I glanced at the display. A brightly lit display showed the intersection of two streets, the one I was on, and the one I was to turn onto. An arrow indicated the turn. Nothing ambiguous here; even if the instructions had been unclear, the display would have left no doubt what to do. Better even, the display was instantly readable. No need to shift the phone in my hand, or waste time figuring out what to do – a real boon when engaged in the dubious activity of holding a cell phone while driving.


But enough of this scofflaw driving. I place the phone on the passenger seat.


After about a minute (I’m getting worried – has the phone powered off?) the same calm voice alerts me: “Be prepared to turn right onto … in point four miles.” I glance at the odometer.


It is a good warning gap. There is time enough to find a turning lane should it be necessary, even in heavy traffic.


The next head’s up comes in perfect time, about three seconds before the event: “get ready to turn right …”


And then, an instant before I get to the actual intersection: “turn right onto … for point three miles. Be prepared to turn left onto …”


By now my anxiety has been replaced by a sense of excitement. This is the kind of navigator I have always wanted. Even my wife, trained as she has been over the years, has never been this smooth, this calm, this helpful.


This is NIM’s major entry into the world of GPS and personal navigation. Utilizing the edge provided by cellular communication it offers a number of step-ups from built-in navigation systems: up-to-date databases without the need to download them (the database is at the server side, not in the vehicle); detachability from the vehicle – invaluable if you are driving, then walking to your destination. There are trade-off’s, of course: smaller displays, reliance on the battery life of the phone, quality of cellular connection. But, not once during a month of testing the device in a broad range of settings, did I ever feel the need for a larger display or run out of power.


I was halfway to my friend’s house when the first anomaly occurred.


“Turn left onto Old Las Vegas Highway.”


I followed the timely instruction.


Then there was a pause – I could almost sense a human hesitation – “You are not on a road. Please find your way to Old Las Vegas Highway.”


“What!?”


I had no doubt I was on a major artery. My tires hummed on the pavement.


A few moments passed, then the device repeated itself: “You are not on a road. Please find your way to Old Las Vegas Highway.”


I was tempted to blame the phone. But this is not a new issue; it is reflective of a much larger, ever more important issue in the world of GPS and navigation: the faulty database.


But for the driver, one like myself cruising at night in possibly strange terrain, this is not something he wants to hear.


There was no choice. I knew I was on a road (this wasn’t a Stephen King thriller) so I just kept on going. What happened next would be the true test.


What happened next: Another half-dozen warnings, all the same: “You are not on a road. Please find your way to Old Las Vegas Highway.”


Then, after about a mile: “Continue on Old Las Vegas Highway until ….”


Finally, NAVTEQ and I had found each other. (NAVTEQ is the database provider for Networks in Motion.) It was a relief.


A short-lived relief.


“Prepare to turn left onto …” and here I was given the name of a road I had never utilized by before. The road I regularly used was a paved county road connecting the current artery to a parallel county road leading to my destination.


I decided to trust the device. How could I do otherwise – her tone was both confident and seductive.


In the setup menus, the user is given the choice of five voices, two male and three female. It would be nice if there were a sample of the voice when you pointed your cursor at one of the choices (“hi, my name is Andrew, would you like me to be your guide?); but to hear the voice, you must actually select it and then use it in a navigation situation. The female voices all seemed to come over the car noise with a little more clarity than the male voices; I suspect this is an interrelationship of car model, other ambient noise, and the user’s ears – we’re all going deaf, but in different ways.


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