Earthcomber LLC today introduced a free service that provides maps and directions on Windows Mobile-based PDAs and smart phones.
The service, which has been available on Palm's mobile platform, is built around GPS-enabled maps for U.S. territories. Mobile device users can specify directions for restaurants, hotels, and automatic teller machines and plot them on a map. Directions are available both through a wireless connection to the Internet, or via satellite with Earthcomber's GPS feature.
Windows Mobile users can download the software for free at Earthcomber's Web site.
Earthcomber sells "spot guides," GPS-enabled online guidebooks that can be customized based on users' interests. They can be set to alert people when they're in proximity to a favorite chain store in an unfamiliar city, for example, or to a restaurant serving their favorite style of food. They cost about $20.
The global market for mobile location-based services is expected to reach more than $8.5 billion by the end of 2010, according to Juniper Research. In 2005, the location-based services market was less than $1 billion.
Location-based services on mobile devices are becoming increasingly popular among consumers and traveling businesspeople. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft MSN are providing developers access to APIs for their Web-based maps. The result is free wireless mapping services from companies such as Mobile GMaps and KMaps, the latter of which was acquired by uLocate Communications Inc. in November.
Wireless carriers are driving much of the activity. The merger of Sprint and Nextel has resulted in the largest portfolio of mapping-related services and GPS-enabled devices from a carrier. Cingular and Verizon Wireless have partnered with companies such as MapQuest, Rand McNally, and Tele Atlas to offer up maps, location-based services, and traffic information on cell phones and PDAs. MapQuest also offers a service that provides maps and directions on cell phones.
Vendors are working to expand the technology into new uses. Earthcomber, for example, offers a feature that lets people join or create interest groups for sharing information on things such as historic sites, art galleries, or picnic locations.