MapQuest Launches New Service for Mobile Devices

Bidding to capitalize on the mobile services trend by extending its powerful brand beyond the bounds of the Internet, MapQuest has launched a service that enables users to send the company’s maps to cell phones.

The Send to Phone service will be offered as part of the monthly subscription plan to MapQuest Mobile, which costs US$3.99. With Send to Phone, users can get color maps and written driving directions from MapQuest’s Web site to their cell phones.

MapQuest has been owned by America Online since the Internet service provider bought it in 1999 for around $1 billion. To date, most of its revenue has been derived through advertising and other back-end partnerships — maps can be customized to include restaurant, hotel and other locations, for instance — rather than subscription revenue. Even the monthly fee for Mapquest Mobile is shared with wireless carriers.

Early Adopters

Tommy McGloin, senior vice president and general manager of MapQuest, said the company sees heavy business travelers, such as sales professionals, as likely early adopters of the technology.

McGloin said the service would help MapQuest “continue to open new market opportunities and expand the reach of our brand and our superior maps and directions.”

MapQuest receives in excess of 30 million unique visitors each month, making it one of the most heavily visited sites on the Web. In fact, Nielsen//NetRatings said the site ranked as the top travel-related site last month, drawing 31 million visitors.

America Online spokesman Brian Hoyt said there are currently about 100,000 Mapquest Mobile subscribers and that the Send to Phone service is an upgrade over the earlier mobile features.

More Graphics

“The old service was heavily text message based and less graphical,” Hoyt told the E-Commerce Times. “Send to Phone is a whole new application for the mobile with color maps and directions, a more modern and simple mobile phone-user interface.”

Hoyt said the service is meant for people who know in advance that they might need directions. It will also improve on the service that mobile users can get by using their phones to get directions.

Once directions are sent to a phone, they can be viewed in steps or through a map view.

All Business Is Local

Through MapQuest, AOL is targeting the fertile market for local information, something that major search engines, including Yahoo and Google, have used various approaches to reach.

Last month, Yahoo rolled out a traffic information add-on for its fast-growing local content and Yahoo Maps menus.

Previously, Google acquired Keyhold Corp., which gives that search engine the ability to offer building and street-level satellite photos.

The local market is seen as a key because if advertising and being listed on search engines and other location services — such as a service to alert cell phone users when they drive near one of their favorite stores — can be made inexpensive enough to appeal to small, local businesses, it will open up huge opportunities.

Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li noted that consumers have already shown a willingness to use search engines to find local information, something that all major portals and search companies have moved to provide.

Easier Is Better

Taking that detailed level of local information one step further stands to enhance the reason that people turn to the Web in the first place, Li added. “Anything that makes it easier to find information is a winner with consumers,” she said.

Meanwhile, for AOL, MapQuest is an example of its unbounded services that reach the entire Web and not just its base of subscribers. The service has made it known that making more of its content available to everyone on the Web is a goal for 2005.

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