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Tuesday, March 27, 2007 

Mapquest Expands Free Services to Handsets

Want maps and driving directions on your cell phone? Your options have just expanded--again. Web mapping pioneer Mapquest today announced improved cell phone support--including a new Send to Cell service--that will make its maps and driving directions easily available to just about anyone with a browser-equipped handset and a data plan.

Mapquest has offered mobile services in the past, but only via its Mapquest Mobile application, a paid download for Java or BREW phones, or--for certain carriers and phones with built-in GPS support--its Mapquest Navigator service. But the upgrades announced on the eve of the giant CTIA Wireless show here make Mapquest maps and driving directions available for free via any WAP-compatible mobile browser.

Mapquest Director of Wireless Alan Beiagi says the new services make Mapquest available to much wider universe of handsets--roughly 179 million of them, compared to roughly 80 million that support the older fee-based applications.

Getting Mapquest on a Handheld

You can get Mapquest directions and maps on your handset either by going to Mapquest's site, which can detect requests from mobile browsers and respond with content optimized for small screens, or--if you're the type of traveler that plans ahead--by generating maps on your desktop and clicking on a "Send to Cell" link that appears in between the "E-mail" and "Link to these directions" links on top of the directions.

This brings up a small window where you enter your handset number, e-mail address, and a name for your map. Once you submit this info, the service will send you an SMS text message with a link; click on it, and you get your route information--again, optimized for a small screen.

Send to Cell is a beta service, and Mapquest notes that some carriers block SMS messages that contain URLs. (I tried to use it with my Cingular Treo 650 and never got text messages for either of the maps I sent.) Also, while Mapquest does not charge for the service, your carrier may (and probably will) impose text message and/or data charges, depending on your plan.

Location-based, Location-based, Location-based

Mapping, navigation, and location based-services (with or without GPS) are one of the hottest trends in the cell phone business. Mapquest's new services will compete with a growing number of options for navigation and mapping on handsets. Players include such giants as Google, with its Google Mobile Maps applications; Microsoft, with its Windows Live Search for mobile devices; and Yahoo Local Maps, which also has a service that uses SMS text messaging to send your handset a link to a desktop-generated map.

Source: Yahoo! News

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Pedro "K2" Macêdo

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