Does this service exist? It should.
June 2, 2007 9:31 AM   Subscribe

I'd love to know of a phone number I could call for voice directions, based on my cell phone's GPS; ideally, a 1-900-like service, charged per-call. Better still... free!

You see, my boo's new car has this: It is quite cool. My cell phone (Motorola E815 phone) is GPS-capable, but it's too old for Verizon's similar, proprietary service. Seems that an business based on that kind of thing wouldn't be too hard to do. I might invest in it. I get lost easily. You?
posted by derekb to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's the link mentioned above
posted by derekb at 9:32 AM on June 2, 2007

If you don't need the "voice" directions, Google Maps Mobile would work perfectly. Some devices are GPS enabled.

Personally, I think the interface of a navigation device is extremely important, and I'm not sure that I've seen any non-dedicated device that's done it quite right. If the cell phone solution proves inadequate, I would recommend just looking into a dedicated device. (I have the Nuvi, which I love.)
posted by IvyMike at 9:45 AM on June 2, 2007

Here's the thing about GPS:

A GPS receiver knows where it's located by listening to the satellites. The satellites don't know where each receiver is located, however. It's a one-way thing.

On-Star is two components. There's a GPS antenna that figures out where you are, and there's a built-in cellphone that connects to their data center and tells them where you are. Additionally, it carries your conversation with the On-Star folks so you can both talk about where you're going.

However - that's a specialized case. If you called my business from your cellphone, that's just a regular phone call. There's no location information transmitted with your call to me.

This would require either special hardware, or cooperation of cellphone carriers, like Verizon. Verizon, however, doesn't want to give up anything, of any kind, to anyone.
posted by odinsdream at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2007

Somebody tried to start a service like this in the UK, using taxi drivers to take the calls (the ones who have "the knowledge").

He went onto a TV program called Dragon's Den, where contestants can try and attract venture capital funding. He was laughed out of the room.

Part of the problem is that we have computerised maps, and we have printed maps, and we have people passing on the street who we can ask... It's never been easier to get around. This kind of service just wouldn't be needed.
posted by humblepigeon at 10:00 AM on June 2, 2007

It's not turn by turn, but maybe TellMe would help?
posted by occhiblu at 10:38 AM on June 2, 2007

PSTN servers can't magically talk to the GPS unit in your cell phone.

You need some software on your cell phone that will:
1. Query the GPS unit
2. Query the user for the destination
2. Send a request over the data network* indicating your current location and desired location
3. Receive the reply, and display it to the user

Writing the software is expensive and painful, since standards in the cell phone world are really little more than sick jokes. Phones have a bewildering array of input layouts, display options, and service. This is exactly why your old cell phone doesn't support these services.

*you could send a coded DTMF signal over the PSTN line, but then you'd need to lease DTMF decoders in addition to your directions servers. DTMF servers are heavily used by calling card companies, so you'd be locked into the pricing and service models that serve them well.

Seems that an business based on that kind of thing wouldn't be too hard to do. I might invest in it.

External investors help to confirm that your idea is valid. Don't ever, ever invest (much) in your own startup company, particularly in telecom. There are people who would invest in a business like this, and probably could make it fly. The trick is to make the software system easy to use, then market the hell out of it and sell the company. Each of these steps requires a great deal of domain knowledge. You can't just expect to wing it and be successful.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:32 PM on June 2, 2007

All the taxis in Madrid are equipped with GPS enabled Palm Pilots. The driver doesn't have to know their way around the city, they just enter the address in their palm pilot and it will show them how to get there by map. I don't know what the software is but the system is slick.

A funny thing in the same city was when the GF and I were looking for a certain street that was near to where we were walking. We needed help and so who better to ask than the cop that was at the corner. Unfortunately he wasn't any help because he got around with a GPS enabled map device. He too didn't need to know where streets were, the unit would tell him where to go for any emergency call. Technology tends to make people more helpless.
posted by JJ86 at 4:55 PM on June 2, 2007

There are businesses based on this - they're the developers who work with the cell phone companies to provide the service like the Verizon one that unfortunately doesn't work on your phone.

The wireless carriers control the data going from your phone, as mentioned above, the data from the GPS satellites is "free" and it goes to your phone.

2 really long shots you can try: contact Verizon and tell them you what phone you have and that you really, really want navigation. Maybe they need 100 customers to request it and they'll make it happen, and you're the 100th caller.

Or, maybe you can somehow talk them into a handset upgrade. You'll probably have to sign some more of your life away to them, but what's a little additional indentured servitude when you have a cell phone that can give you directions? :)
posted by altcountryman at 7:52 PM on June 2, 2007

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