By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
MSN Direct is enjoying a groundswell of support from personal navigation device (PND) makers, who leverage the wireless data service to deliver real-time traffic updates, weather reports, gas prices and movie-theater information to their devices.
Alpine and newcomers Goodyear and Navtour have announced PNDs that feature MSN Direct, and Pioneer announced a transportable car-to-car navigation device with MSN Direct. Garmin, previously the only PND maker supporting the service, expanded its 2008 lineup to seven compatible models. In addition, in-dash navigation supplier Dual showed an MSN Direct prototype at International CES. (See p. 40 for details).
MSN Direct competes with XM NavTraffic, Clear Channel, Sirius Traffic and other services. Its annual $49 subscription fee, or one-time $129 fee, makes it one of the lowest-priced competitors. XM NavTraffic charges $3.99/month plus $12.95/month for standard XM Radio broadcasts. Clear Channel traffic typically charges $60/year.
MSN Direct uses an analog-FM subcarrier to deliver data over the FM band to the devices. MSN Direct does not use slower 1.1kbps analog-FM Radio Data System (RDS) technology to deliver data.
MSN Direct's data dumps promise to accelerate when the service supplements its analog transmissions with digital HD Radio transmission, said HD-Radio developer iBiquity Digital. The company demonstrated 12kbps MSN Direct during CES and touted the potential to deliver data at up to 50kbps if a digital FM station delivers two 48kbps programming channels. Digital FM stations have the bandwidth to deliver audio and data at a combined total data rate of 150kbps, iBiquity said.
HD Radio will enable MSN Direct to download traffic reports before a driver put his car in drive, and it will enable the service to offer additional content, iBiquity said.
MSN Direct is also transmitted to select wristwatches, desktop weather stations and a Melitta coffeemaker.
Goodyear plans to offer MSN Direct on four of its new PNDs. The brand is entering the PND market through Brooklyn, N.Y.-based The NCC, which licensed the Goodyear name. The company also sells computer accessories, flashlights and items under the Stanley and Westinghouse brands, and it sources products from Hong Kong. NCC claims to have a broad base of retailers and to be in "early talks" with possible retailers to sell Goodyear PNDs.
Goodyear said the crowded market isn't deterring it from entering. Said NCC operations VP Barry Rosenstock, "It's still a huge, growing market. Only 10 percent of U.S. drivers currently have navigation. Though it's very competitive, it's very early in the growth phase. With the Goodyear name and our production experience, we're confident we'll make a significant impact in this category."
Only last month, however, another tire-related brand, ViaMichelin, had its plans punctured and said it would exit the PND market. The company is in discussions with Navigon to sell its assets.
In its line, Goodyear is offering a number of less-common features, including a remote control to clip on the visor or steering wheel. Its PNDs are also able to display a map while playing music through its MP3 player or notifying the user of an incoming call via Bluetooth.
Out of six Goodyear PNDs, two will carry a year of built-in MSN Direct, and two others will offer MSN Direct as an optional accessory. The line starts with a basic GY130 with 3.5-inch touchscreen, MP3 playback and maps of the lower 48 states. The 4.3-inch widescreen version is the GY140.
The GY330 and GY340 add MSN Direct traffic, weather, movie and gas price listings when docked with an optional MSN Direct receiver. The GY330 has a slim form factor and 3.5-inch screen with street name guidance, a pedestrian mode and an FM transmitter to play music through the car radio. It has an A/V input to attach an external MP3 player, TV tuner or DVD player. The GY340 adds a 4.3-inch screen. Both models offer maps of the entire United States and Canada and work with the optional wireless remote.
The GY440 and flagship GY540, both with 4.3-inch screens, include MSN Direct and a year of free service. They also offer Bluetooth. The GY540 adds stereo speakers and accepts a 2GB SD card for music and video files. Pricing on the line is not yet available.
In March, Navtour will ship the G4 with 4.3-inch screen and built-in MSN Direct. Although MSN Direct is built in, the user must add a $60 antenna. The G4 features street-name guidance and a picture viewer, maps of the full United States and Canada, and an expected suggested retail of $299.
Navtour has also developed a prototype PND with WiMAX connection that lets users watch IPTV on the device as well as browse the Web and do instant messaging. The device won't be commercially available this year, however.
Navtour, the year-old PND brand, is supplied by Dmedia, the Taiwan-based OEM supplier of GPS devices.
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