By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Wherify Wireless, the company that markets a cellular-based child-tracking system, is developing a new system for tracking adults, cars and pets.
Wherify plans July or August shipments of its new Wherifone GPS Locator Phone, a trimode CDMA 1X device targeted to retail at an everyday $149, said Wherify president Timothy Neher.
To track the device, consumers access Wherify's monitoring service by Web browser or by voice call. The device can be tracked to within a foot in outdoor locations and to within 30 feet in indoor locations, Neher said.
Unlike the company's current child-locator device, the Wherifone doesn't lock onto a person's wrist. The new device is also smaller at 0.5 inch by 2.5 inches by 1.34 inches. In other major differences, the new device adds two-way voice capability and an optional concierge service described by the company as "OnStar outside the car."
A few months after the CDMA 1X model ships, a triband GSM/GPRS version will ship, giving users the ability to track the device internationally. The device will operate in 1,900MHz GSM networks in the Western Hemisphere and in 900/1,800MHz in Europe and Asia.
Both Wherifone versions, which lack display and dialing keypad, will ship in place of a prototype tracking device shown at CES, Neher said. The prototype lacked some of the new model's features, including continuous tracking at one-second intervals rather than at one-minute intervals. The new device also adds a store-and-forward feature that lets a subscriber download the device's previous locations after the fact.
The differences between Wherifone and the original child-locating device are more marked.
The wristband device, for example, is built on second-generation circuit-switched CDMA 1.9GHz technology, which requires a separate GPS chipset that increased the device's bulk. The new CDMA 1X device, in contrast, uses a Qualcomm chipset that integrates CDMA 1X technology and Qualcomm's assisted-GPS technology (gpsOne) to reduce bulk. The GSM/GPRS device will use a chipset that integrates GSM/GPRS and Sirf's assisted-GPS technology.
The new devices also speed up the location process. The wristband device determines its location in 30 seconds, but the new devices get a fix in 10 seconds to 15 seconds, Neher said.
The new devices also improve a user's ability to communicate with authorities in emergencies. Users of the wristband device press two buttons simultaneously to send an emergency alert to Wherify's monitoring service, which contacts parents or guardians to ask them whether the police should be notified. If parents and guardians can't be reached, Wherify will call police anyway. Wearers also receive and view numeric messages sent via SMS.
The new devices, in contrast, make voice calls to three preprogrammed numbers, including 911. The device also receives calls through its assigned phone number. With an optional concierge service, users can voice dial any number after they connect with the company's call center. The concierge service will also provide driving directions and help finding hotels, restaurants, stores and the like.
The CDMA 1X version will deliver 5.6 days of standby time on its 620mAh battery. Talk time is expected to be about 1.5 hours.
Subscriptions will cost $10 to $35 per month for a combination of voice minutes and a specified number of tracking requests. Details haven't been finalized. The concierge service hasn't been priced.
A next-generation wristband tracker will likely be available in the first quarter of 2005, Neher said.
Like the current child-tracking device, the new devices will be sold direct to retailers. The existing device is sold in 500 locations, including the Good Guys and Fry's locations, said Neher. The company, however, will also target carriers, home-security monitoring services for private-label opportunities, and pet stores and veterinarians to reach pet owners. Home improvement stores could sell to contractors who want to track their fleet or control employees' cellphone use, Neher added. Wherify will also target the automotive market, including automakers, car dealers, automotive parts dealers and rental car agencies.
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