Continuing our series of interviews with mapping software companies, we turn today to DeLorme’s Caleb Mason, for the scoop on some exciting new proucts. Pay particular attention to the answer to the first question, for it holds two major announcements — not only is DeLorme introducing a handheld GPS, it will also accept raster imagery!
Caleb, can you tell us about any new products or features that you are working on, and when we might see them available?
DeLorme announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show our first-ever handheld GPS receiver, the Earthmate GPS PN-20. This device will sell for around $200 and include a color screen for displaying DeLorme vector maps as well as raster imagery.
For years we have heard from customers that what they really want to do is load our vector color topographic maps on a handheld GPS receiver. This has not been possible as the major GPS suppliers use closed systems designed to sell their own mapping software. Now, customers will have an affordable, high-quality solution for use with our maps and software to make the outdoor experience that much better. More competition and choices within the GPS market will help expand awareness and sales for all providers.
Many of the most popular features of DeLorme software will be carried over to the new GPS. For instance, it will be possible to create automatic trail or road routes on the desktop software and transfer these to the GPS. This automatic route generation feature is very powerful and limits the time it takes to hand-draw routing information. Waypoints and Draw objects will be easily transferred between the desktop software, the GPS, and back to the desktop.
A new version of DeLorme Topo USA is planned for release in conjunction with the Earthmate GPS PN-20, tentatively scheduled for the first half of 2006. The software will work seamlessly with the new GPS and also contain a new 3-D mapping engine that will be far superior to the current one. Updated trails and BLM data are planned along with much more.
What are the primary limitations inhibiting development of mapping software?
None really. We are presently developing a great deal of mapping software for future market expansion. DeLorme has a unique advantage in that we own and develop our own digital maps so we are not hindered by third-party licensing constraints. Additionally, we also have the in-house expertise to make the software and firmware needed to enable the mapping software to work on mobile devices. We are essentially a one-stop shop for the majority of tools needed in emerging GPS and LBS markets.
What improvements would you like to see in GPS receivers?
Ease-of-use is probably still number one. Too many of the available systems are market-limited due to their complexity. Reliably quick signal acquisition in a variety of environs is also an area of continuous improvement.
What is way out there, years in the future, for your company or for the entire industry? What would your ideal GPS unit of the future look like?
If only we knew (or maybe it’s better we don’t!). We don’t tend to spend too much time looking way out because in technology, as in life, unforeseen changes will always dictate path corrections to the best-laid plans. I don’t believe there will be one ideal GPS unit but instead many different implementations of the technology to meet specific contexts/needs.
Do you anticipate your company going into location-based services?
Yes, due to the breadth of tools and assets we have here we will be a participant in this emerging space.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
DeLorme is a privately-held company based in Maine. We are a U.S. business success story, driving mapping and GPS innovation for 30 years. We are not part of a large conglomerate with the restraints this places on speed of innovation and ability to mobilize quickly. All of our software engineering is done right here in the U.S., as is our cartographic work. We try to create good jobs here in the state of Maine, in part because we have to and in part because many people like the quality of life Maine offers families and others looking to leave the “rush” behind.
We value customer input and listen to customer feedback on a daily basis. Many good ideas have come from customer suggestions. We balance this with our own passion for the business we are in, which by its very nature means we go out on limbs trying to make new products that customers cannot necessarily envision yet. We head down many paths uncertain of where they will lead but relatively confident in our hunches. But we are not beholden to any one direction for longer than makes sense, unlike many large organizations whose egos cannot step away and move on. It is the blend of these two forces – customer listening and forward innovation flexibility — that best defines who we are.