N. Douglas Pritt, Navstar’s CEO and president, says that it
will sell for less than $200—he’s hoping for
$149—when it comes to the market late in the second
quarter. “I wanted to provide a low-cost navigation unit that
could be used by anybody,” he says.
One reason the Voice Navigator is cheap: It lacks a screen.
Pritt thinks voice navigation will be all that’s needed. It
also does not include weather or traffic features, though Pritt
says those can be added if there is demand.
About the size of a deck of cards (2 by 4 by 0.75 inches),
the Navstar connects to your cell phone via Bluetooth. You tell
it where you want to go by spelling out your destination (it
will ask for confirmation). It will then use the cell phone
connection to download map information from servers that
Navstar hosts. The cell phone is only used for one to three
minutes as it downloads directions. Otherwise, your phone is
available for calls.
The device also includes three buttons: a bell for emergency
services, a point-of-interest button with various presets (for
instance, the recreational vehicle crowd might search for the
nearest campground) and an itinerary button that users can
preset (Navstar will then walk them through the directions
based on how far they’ve come).
David Chamberlain, a principal analyst at In-Stat Research,
says that voice navigation solves a significant problem with
GPS systems—using them while in motion. “The screen says
don’t do it when you’re driving, and we do. Being able to
handle voice recognition is a terrific safety improvement,” he
Chamberlain notes that high-end GPS systems do use voice
recognition—a case in point would be the Garmin Nüvi 880, announced at the
Consumer Electronics Show. It will cost around $1,000. That
device is more sophisticated than Navstar’s Voice
Navigator—you can ask it to find a restaurant or a gas
station without having to spell out the words.
Meanwhile, voice navigation is also coming to cell phones.
Carriers like Verizon and Sprint have developed voice-driven
navigation services, and Vlingo, a startup in Cambridge, Mass.,
that offers voice-recognition services such as Web search
for cell phones, says it will add a voice-driven speech
service in the second quarter.
Chamberlain says that voice recognition is a last frontier,
not just for GPS systems but for other kinds of interfaces as
Navteq supplies the digital maps to Navstar. Robert
Gourdine, Navteq’s director of North American marketing, says
that he expects to see more such announcements over the next
year or two. “The whole idea of a voice interface that skips
that cumbersome process of pushing buttons—it is the Holy
Gourdine says without voice-driven interfaces, GPS will
never be a mass-market application.
Navstar’s Pritt says that he’s hoping to tap into ways to
use the GPS for marketing goods and services. He hopes he can
cut deals with restaurant chains to send routes to their
restaurants, for instance, or develop an “estimated time of
arrival” service. But for now, he needs to get a foothold in
the market. “For me, this is the year of the voice-driven
interface,” Pritt says. “I want to get out there as soon as I
A Growing List of Navigation Players
As a report from
PC World noted, the Nuvi 880 and the
Nuvi 780 models (which don’t support hands-free
operation) are among several navigation systems
highlighted at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
that give users the option of augmenting the usual maps,
directions and point-of-interest data with real-time,
location-based services. Such services include
downloadable traffic alerts, news, stock quotes, movie
listings and gas prices from Microsoft Direct, a service
slated to cost $50 a year or a one-time charge of $130
after a three-month free trial.
Also highlighted at CES:
• The Microsoft service will integrate with Windows
Live, too, so you can upload travel plans and destinations to
your personal navigation device without having to type them
• Hewlett-Packard offers users of its iPaq Travel
Companions a similar service through its new iPaq Navigate website, which also has
community features and reviews.
• The makers of TomTom, another popular personal
navigation device, announced that it has added fuel prices
to its companion TomTom Plus traffic and data service.
• Dash, which last month began accepting
prerelease orders for its Internet-connected GPS, says its
devices deliver two-way communications—you get traffic
and other information, and at the same time your device
(anonymously) sends Dash data about your location and
driving speed. The service intends to use this information
to generate better real-time traffic updates once a critical
mass of users is reached.