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Digital maps charting new data

July 29, 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Digital maps charting new data, by Dave Carpenter.

CHICAGO Getting lost is getting rarer nowadays, and any yahoo with a keyboard or a GPS device can find precise directions or pinpoint the location of an out-of-town landmark.

Now drivers hooked on digital maps are looking for more than just streets and turns. They want ever more accurate and up-to-date points of interest such as restaurants, gas stations, hotels and theme parks.

For digital mapmakers like Navteq Corp., it's up to road teams like Ann McNeil and Rich Joyce to deliver.

Like luxury-class explorers, the geographic analysts cruise streets and roads in a tech-laden SUV outfitted with a satellite tracking computer, electronic clipboard and rooftop cameras.

"Our customers are wanting more and more information," said McNeil, who has driven hundreds of thousands of miles in a decade at Navteq. "We're expanding all the time."

It's all part of a race with Dutch rival Tele Atlas NV to not only chart the world more accurately but combine the maps with other relevant data.

A pioneer of the digital map business, Navteq produces the maps and software found in automobile navigation systems, portable navigation devices made by Garmin Ltd. and other companies, and Internet map sites like AOL's Mapquest, Google Inc.'s Google Maps and Yahoo Inc.'s Yahoo Maps.

Navteq is the Rand McNally of the 21st century, according to Colorado-based map industry consultant Henry Poirot. And the rapid growth may be just beginning.

Thanks to global positioning systems and recent technology advancements, Navteq is fine-tuning ways to let consumers use a phone or other handheld device to track their dogs, find where to jog in another city, learn how many calories they will burn doing it, learn where the nearest 24-hour gas stations are and see current traffic and weather conditions. Tele Atlas has its own projects under way.

"There's a lot of competition going on," said Thilo Koslowski, an analyst for Gartner Inc. "Both companies are trying to show that their data is better, by being innovative in gathering more detailed information."

The mapping duel heated up last week with the announcement that Tele Atlas agreed to a $2.6 billion acquisition by TomTom NV, the world's largest maker of personal navigation devices.

The biggest threat facing the two competitors in the future may be user-generated map content — a mapping equivalent of YouTube, as it were.

Google also could be a rival. The Internet search leader is deep into research , development and even acquisitions related to its mapping services, which include Google Earth as well as Google Maps.

Navteq has shown a knack for adapting to changing technology.

The company was born in 1985 as Navigation Technologies, focusing on kiosks at car rental agencies and hotels where patrons could print out directions and maps for chosen addresses. Dutch conglomerate Philips Electronics became its primary investor starting in 1989, a role it held until recently.

Navteq finally became profitable in 2002 thanks to global positioning systems, a boom in car-based navigation guides and its increasing grip on the exploding Internet mapping market. An initial public offering in 2004 helped ignite fast growth, and today it has more than 3,000 employees in 30 countries and a new headquarters in Chicago.

The company made $110 million on $582 million in sales last year.

Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel



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