By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
MSN Direct, a service that delivers real-time traffic and other updates to GPS devices, is growing more widely available in portable GPS and may also enter the in-dash navigation market.
In addition, MSN Direct, which delivers traffic and weather updates as well as gas prices and movie listings over an FM sideband, demonstrated the ability to offer the service over HD Radio at International CES.
Dual showed at its CES booth MSN Direct service over HD Radio on an in-dash OEM look-alike replacement A/V-navigation head unit.
MSN Direct is pursuing HD Radio as a platform as the car companies are beginning to convert to digital radio, said Joe Coco, product unit manger for MSN Direct, which is offered by Microsoft. Ford recently announced it will offer HD Radio in new cars starting in 2009 as either standard or optional equipment.
At CES, Pioneer, Alpine and three other companies — Navtour, Goodyear and StreetDeck — announced new GPS devices with MSN Direct (see p. 50), and Garmin added the service to several new portable Nuvi models (for a total of seven Garmin MSN Direct units). In addition, Avis Rent a Car said it will offer its customers a Garmin Nuvi with MSN Direct this spring under its Where 2 program.
Further, MSN Direct announced new features at CES. It will provide real-time updates for stock prices, news headlines and local-event listings, in addition to its current offerings of traffic, weather, gas prices and movie listings. In the case of Avis, it will also deliver airport delay information. Avis is using a version of the Garmin Nuvi 780 that can list general airport delays for incoming and outgoing flights (but not individual flight delays).
"In this past year we have seen a tremendous response to the MSN Direct service from many top leaders in the navigation industry — ranging from personal navigation device-makers and in-car system manufacturers to the top brands in the rental car field," said Eric Lang, general manager of the MSN Direct initiative at Microsoft.
MSN Direct service fees are $49.94/year or a one-time fee of $129 for the lifetime of the device. Garmin also offers a year of free service initially, said Coco.
MSN effectively competes with other traffic services including XM NavTraffic, which charges $3.99/month plus $12.95/month for standard XM Radio. Clear Channel traffic typically charges $60/year.
Pioneer added MSN Direct to its new hybrid GPS, the AVIC-F500BT that integrates with most car audio systems. It is designed as an in-car, on-dash unit, rather than a portable and it has a 5.8-inch display, iPod interface, and advanced voice control to retrieve music and switch modes.
Alpine is also offering the service on its new K3 portable GPS this spring at a suggested retail of $650.
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