(Pic: Nokia 6110 Navigator, courtesy unwiredview)
It is the latest acronym to invade the mobile world. And after a rickety start, it seems to be making itself right at home in India too! We are talking of the Global Positioning System, or GPS as it is popularly known as. Basically a tool that helps users find their way by plotting their locations using satellites, GPS has of late become a standard feature of high-end phones and could be making its way to the mid-segment too.
Why GPS rocks
For the uninitiated, GPS is a technology that pinpoints the location of a person on a map. What one needs for this is a GPS-enabled device that can communicate directly with satellites , which do the actual pinpointing and then show the result on the device. So if you are using a GPS-enabled phone (say), you will be able to see yourself as a dot marked on a map of your present location.
And if you happen to have the right kind of software loaded on to your device, you could look up the most convenient way of travelling from one place to another-and even watch yourself doing so on the map! Add to that features like turn-by-turn instructions (in voice and text), information about traffic congestions as well as alternate routes, the ability to search for landmarks, and you can understand why GPS was considered invaluable for travellers who loved technology.
GPS had by and large been limited to special devices, from the likes of Garmin, that were targeted at travellers but this year has seen it also becoming a feature of high-end phones being launched in India.
The Nokia N95 and E90, the Asus P535, the BlackBerry 8800 and 8820, the HTC P3300-all have GPS in their tech specs. And even as this is being written, Nokia is preparing to launch the 6110, also called the Navigator, while Sony Ericsson is believed to be working on bundling a GPS accessory to boost sales of its P1i.
The rationale for integrating GPS with phones is simple: most business executives who buy high-end devices do tend to travel a lot, so they would not be averse to shelling out a few extra bucks for devices that tell them the way!
Not all roses
However, it would be naÃ¯ve to assume that just having a GPS-enabled phone can solve oneâ€™s travelling blues. The truth is that GPS devices have their own headaches. For one, you need to be under an open sky to be able to get a signal from a satellite- it is difficult to use GPS in a room, and sometimes even in a moving vehicle!
There is also the matter of maps and related software. There is little sense in being able to find out where you are if your phone does not have maps loaded on it! And these often cost a pretty penny, if they do not come preloaded on the phone (which itself is pretty expensive!) .
Yes, there are free map options such as Google Maps but these have limited functionality. Google Maps, for instance, does not come with the ability to calculate routes or display traffic details for Indian cities.
It is hardly surprising that cellphone companies have begun to enter tie-ups with map providers (Nokia with Navteq, for instance) to ensure that their devices come preloaded with the right kind of maps.
Finally, there is the little matter of the two â€˜bâ€™s-battery and bandwidth . As it has to keep a constant communication with satellite, GPS can drain a normal phone battery, and if it has to keep downloading information from the internet (for live traffic or updated maps), it could end up adding a fair bit to oneâ€™s mobile bill too!
But for all its niggles, GPS seems set to become a part of mainstream cellphones in the coming days. Developers are working on coming out with software that makes the most of GPS for m-commerce-you can order something from a specific restaurant by clicking on it on a map-and even gaming (treasure hunts). As the technology becomes more popular, it is a fair chance that its price will dip too (currently, the cheapest GPS-enabled phone comes for around Rs 22,000). In fact, GPS is expected to be an integral part of Googleâ€™s much-hyped Android platform . And if that does not make it mainstream, nothing can!
It may be expensive and quirky at the moment, but GPS is well on its way to becoming an integral part of celldom.