AAA Mobile Launched

By Nora Parker

Last week the American Automobile Association (AAA) announced that "AAA Mobile," a new service that makes many of AAA's services available via cell phone, is available on nine models of GPS-enabled Sprint cell phones. (List of currently supported cell phones is available; enter your ZIP Code to get the list.) The service is brand new and expected to be available via other carriers in the near future. I attended a press webinar to get a look at the new offering last week (demo here) and to learn more. LBS provider Networks in Motion (NIM) partnered with AAA on the offering.

The service provides audible turn-by-turn navigation assistance and color maps. By touching one button on the phone, you can request navigation assistance from AAA, which receives your location information automatically. That's a feature I found compelling as it can be difficult to describe your location when you're on unfamiliar ground.

I'm not much of a gadget person, but even I thought that this might be a fun and useful service to have. At $9.99/month with no long-term commitment required, it would even fit within a limited budget. You don't need to be an AAA member to subscribe. However, the points of interest (POI) database included with the service includes the "Show Your Card & Save" merchants (an AAA membership discount program), so you may want to join AAA to get those discounts. That's pretty good marketing by AAA – you would likely tire of not being able to save a few bucks here and there, and probably decide to join. Jeff Green, AAA's managing director of LBS technology, mentioned that he's heard members say that they more than make up the cost of their membership with those savings. Other POIs include the lodges and hotels included in the AAA's TourBook guides, AAA approved auto repair facilities, ATMs, theaters, amusement parks, etc.

NIM is currently partnering with other carriers and offering similar services such as VZ Navigator (with Verizon Wireless), Telus Navigator and Telus KidFind (with Telus), and Axcess Mobile Guide (with alltel). There are a million subscribers currently using NIM-based solutions. According to Steve Petilli, executive vice president of business development and product management for NIM, (if I understood him correctly) one-quarter of those subscribers were added just in the last month. These kinds of services are clearly gaining popularity. The applications are being built using NIM's NAVBuilder program, which includes a software developer kit, platform services and support.

AAA is a membership organization with 50 million members; according to Green, it is "the most popular paid membership in North America." He also said AAA is synonymous with "trust." So here's how I see this ... one million NIM-based solution users currently, and 50 million potential users who have a relationship with an organization that is built on trust. That's a lot of people whose thinking could go from "this is too fancy and high tech for me" to "if AAA is offering it, it's probably a good thing to have." This partnership could generate a huge jump in cell phone-based mobile navigation application usage, taking it out of the realm of the gadget-happy geek and putting it into the hands of folks who are not the typical early adopters. The barrier at this point is probably the cellular carrier and the limited number of cell phone models supported, but more carriers are expected to provide the service very soon. (AAA declined to discuss the status of carrier adoption).

Published Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Written by Nora Parker

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