NEW YORK – AOL unit MapQuest on Monday unveiled a mobile map service that customers can use on their cellular phones, complete with voice directions, text and maps in a bid to expand on the popularity of its Internet maps.
The MapQuest Navigator will be marketed as a cheaper alternative to navigation systems built into cars.
In order to get the software for the service to consumers' phones, MapQuest is working on agreements with cellphone operators. The service could work in cellphones sold by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), the company said.
"A big part of our future is mobile ... We have users of mapquest.com that already trust us. This is just a better way for us to guide our users to their destinations," said Alan Beiagi, MapQuest's general manager of wireless.
MapQuest, which has about 40 million monthly users of its Internet driving directions and mapping services, hopes its online popularity and features such as turn-by-turn voice prompts give it an edge over offers from rivals such as Google Inc. (GOOG) and InfoSpace.
Sprint recently started offering directions and other local data from InfoSpace Inc. (INSP).
The MapQuest Navigator aims to commercialize location-pinpointing technology that is being put into most U.S. mobile phones, along with MapQuest's online map technology.
U.S. cellphone service providers are required by law to put location technology in new phones in order to help public safety workers find callers in an emergency.
But while a brand can help gain consumers' attention in what is an emerging market, it is not enough unless the service works well, independent media analyst Greg Sterling said.
"It gives it a jump start, but brand is only as good as what it delivers," said Sterling, who believes that such services are "several years away from mainstream adoption."
Sterling said he had not test-driven the application. According to mobile research firm m:metrics, about 4.3 percent of U.S. mobile users used map services on their phone in the month of January.
Beiagi expects MapQuest's combination of text with voice prompts and text instructions will help make such services attractive for consumers.
"If you're in a car .... you want to be able to make a decision extremely quickly. The best way to do it is to have a voice prompt," he said.
He said that pricing of the service would depend on carriers but he hopes consumers would pay subscription fees in the ballpark of about $4 or more a month.
AOL and MapQuest are owned by Time Warner Inc. (TWX).