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With Microsoft’s MapPoint Division, Location is Everything

Q&A: Microsoft recently released Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator, a new consumer mapping and trip planning package that includes the company’s first Global Positioning System device. Michael Graff, leader of the MapPoint Business Unit, shares the company’s vision for the future of location-based technology.

AAA estimates that a record-number 34.1 million Americans took to U.S. highways over the Sept. 3-6 Labor Day holiday weekend, a 2-percent increase over last year. Auto travel reigned supreme with more than 84 percent of all holiday weekend travelers preferring their cars over all other modes of transportation. Although recent travel research indicates that four out of five Americans experience elevated levels of stress during summer driving vacations, only a quarter of drivers hit the road prepared, according to ARA Content Research.

For over 10 years, Microsoft has provided a variety of ways for drivers to alleviate travel-related stress and hit the highways with complete confidence. The company’s quest to enhance business and leisure travel with the latest technology has created sophisticated location technology products that help companies and consumers make the most of their local and long-distance travel.

Just in time for Labor Day travel, Microsoft introduced Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator, a landmark product that combines the company’s first Global Positioning System (GPS) hardware device with the latest version of the best-selling mapping and travel planning software for the United States and Canada (according to NPD Techworld, March 1999-May 2004, based on total U.S. retail sales). Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator provides real-time GPS tracking and a comprehensive collection of maps, driving directions and potential stops along the way to help travelers know exactly where they are and where they are headed at all times.

Michael Graff, general manager of Microsoft’s MapPoint Business Unit, leads the group responsible for developing Microsoft’s best-selling line of consumer and business mapping software products and services. Graff spoke with PressPass about Microsoft’s entrance into the GPS hardware device market and his group's vision for the future of location technology products and services.

PressPass: Why is Microsoft in the consumer location-based technology category?

Graff: Microsoft has had a longstanding commitment to providing consumers with great mapping and location technologies for over 10 years. Streets & Trips with GPS Locator is the latest example of that commitment. This new product is a result of the growing demand for accurate mapping and routing functionality and the explosive growth of the consumer GPS market in the last several years. Our new Streets & Trips product offers an accurate, comprehensive, easy-to-use and affordable mapping and trip-planning package that you don’t need to be online to use.

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s vision for the future of consumer location-based technology products and services?

Graff: Our vision is built around the compelling benefits of understanding your location and the location of people, places and services around you. This location intelligence allows consumers to make better decisions, gain insight and be more efficient in their daily activities. Due to this increasing need, we anticipate continued year-over-year growth in the location-based software industry and that demand for products such as Streets & Trips 2005 will grow as consumers continue to seek out affordable, easy-to-use mobile computing products.

In the longer-term, continued adoption of smart mobile computing devices offers additional opportunities to deliver useful location software and services to consumers on the run. We anticipate powerful solutions that enable people to easily and securely access highly-detailed maps, directions, traffic, points of interest, and the real-time location of friends or relatives on mobile devices. We’re also committed to privacy, and to helping ensure that a user’s location is only provided to others if and when that user says it's OK. This is an exciting time and the future of location technology is closer than you might think.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft choose to enter the GPS hardware device market?

Graff: It was really a natural decision based on the demand we’ve seen from our Streets & Trips customers over the past couple of years. By bundling the Microsoft GPS Locator with Streets & Trips we’ve made it simple for users to connect and configure the device and start using the power of real time location. While many of our customers have successfully connected other GPS devices with Streets & Trips in the past, we wanted to make it easier and more accessible for all consumers.

PressPass: What’s hot this year and why?

Graff: By far the hottest consumer location-based technology products available are GPS and mobile mapping products that can provide real-time mapping and travel information while on the road.

Anticipating the growth in mobile GPS and mapping solutions, we worked with Pharos and SiRF Technology to produce a GPS hardware device that was modular and would work with personal computers as well as Windows Mobile-based Pocket PCs and Smartphones. The device, included with Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator, is USB-ready out of the box, but also works with Windows Mobile-based Pocket PCs and Smartphones via an expansion pack sold at retail through third-party manufacturers. We also included a new version of Pocket Streets for Pocket PC and Smartphone in Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator at no extra cost. The Pocket Streets application offers exciting features such as street level maps, map customization, GPS support, and Microsoft Outlook integration. With Pocket Streets consumers have a wealth of information at hand -- even detailed listings and locations of local restaurants and ATMs.

PressPass: So what options do consumers have if they choose Microsoft products or services?

Graff: For consumers who want quick, point-to-point maps and directions, we offer MSN Maps & Directions online. For those who want a richer travel-planning experience, we offer Streets & Trips, a comprehensive mapping and trip-planning package for North America. Those who want the added power and security of real-time GPS can purchase our new Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator. We also offer a European version of Streets & Trips called AutoRoute, which includes detailed maps and trip-planning tools for 13 Western European countries.

We also offer a variety of powerful business mapping products and services such as MapPoint 2004, MapPoint Location Server and MapPoint Web Service 3.5, for organizations and developers to use powerful location capabilities in their businesses or software applications.

PressPass: Many companies now offer competitive retail and online consumer location-based technology packages. How do Microsoft’s offerings stand out from the crowd and why should a consumer choose Microsoft products or services over the competition?

Graff: You’re correct -- the location technology marketplace has become increasingly competitive during the past few years as better technology is developed and prices fall. While many online and retail competitors are out there, we design customizable mapping and trip-planning solutions with the average consumer in mind. Our focus is to offer powerful, compelling features that are very easy to use, at an attractive price.

For instance, online mapping sites have been great for this category because they have helped accelerate consumer understanding and adoption of location technology. People now feel comfortable turning to their PC for quick maps and directions. What we’re doing with Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS Locator is taking the same easy-to-use approach as online sites such as MSN Maps & Directions and adding highly accurate, more advanced mapping and trip-planning features such as real-time GPS tracking -- plus there is the convenience of not having to be connected to the Internet to retrieve maps. We are also offering a new version of Pocket Streets for Pocket PC and Smartphone for consumers who want advanced mapping and real-time GPS tracking on their handheld device.

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PressPass: Streets & Trips is now in its sixth version. How has this product evolved over those years? Was Streets & Trips conceived as more of a desktop or mobile travel planning application, or was it the thinking that advancements in consumer location technology, such as the new Streets & Trips GPS offering, would lead Microsoft into developing portable in-car navigation systems?

Graff: Actually, we’ve been working on versions of Streets & Trips for over 10 years. In 1998 Microsoft was the first company to combine a detailed street-mapping product -- which was Microsoft Streets -- with a comprehensive travel-planning and routing product -- called Microsoft Trip Planner -- into a single product. The aptly named Streets & Trips 98 was the direct result of listening to customers and responding to their frustration at not previously having these dual capabilities in a single software product.

Streets & Trips was conceived as more of a desktop application to help travelers plan maps and directions before leaving home, and Pocket Streets, which is included free with Streets & Trips, was conceived as a mobile mapping solution to accompany Streets & Trips. Advancing technology and changing consumer trends in purchasing PCs, laptops and mobile devices have sped the development of location technology and crossover applications such as Streets & Trips, which offer a desktop, laptop and mobile device solution in one powerful package.

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