NTT DoCoMo and Nissan Motor are flying in tandem through a new tie-up between i-mode and the carmaker’s Carwings navigation system. The new service, Okutto-Keitai, allows drivers to receive destination-based i-mode digital maps and restaurant data via their NTT DoCoMo mobile handset. Drivers can also request information from Carwings’ live operator or by selecting information manually through the navigation system. Digital maps are provided by Zenrin; restaurant information through Gourmet Navigator, Inc.
Given the GPS technology on many wireless handsets these days plus the rich variety of navigation content sites, the main offering navigation systems have going for them is bigger screens.
DoCoMo competitor KDDI would have you just lose the navigation console completely and rely on their increasingly micro-comprehensive 3G “Navi” systems. Nevertheless, automotive electronic devices continue to show strong growth here. A recent survey of auto parts makers by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) estimates sales of auto electronic devices — including car navigation systems — will hit 2.79 trillion yen for the fiscal year ending March 2005.
To date, innovations in telematic systems beyond mapping your current position (plus showing gas stations, convenience stores and other static information for the area) have mostly relied on removable memory (including DVD disks). Drivers update shopping, restaurant, and other information on home PCs through their console maker’s website or connect to live operators. Human operators are an expensive alternative to online-cached databases but — lacking a smooth, wireless onboard Internet connection — there has been no real-time alternative for deeper content.
As a result, manufacturers have come up with some creative alternatives like the Carwings deal to achieve synchronicity. Another system, the Drive Station car navigation unit manufactured by Car Information Service Corp. hooks up to several Vodafone handsets (V602SH, V601SH, J-SH53) connecting via the phone’s mobile net connection with a subscription service for the electronic maker’s web of maps, driving directions, and automotive fun.
The device consists of the DS-CS01 navigation stand, which retails for JPY27,800; users also pay a Y315 monthly service charge and require a compatible handset.
A downside to the Carwings/i-mode service is that some information is slow in booting up to the phone’s system. It can take several minutes to receive a requested url download via email through the Carwings data center.
Specialized Carwings content is also limited — though of course users have the mobile net at their disposal.
Nissan and DoCoMo plan to expand the number of content providers to enrich the service and attract more buyers/subscribers. Nissan also announced original software allowing drivers to switch from voice communications to data and vice versa. Drivers can chat with Carwings operators without picking up the handset as long as they have a Bluetooth-compatible FOMA F900iT in the car (see image at right).
Since chatting on a cell phone while driving is a ticketable offense in Japan from November, this service actually has some value. Nissan premiered the whole service package in their newly launched Tiida compact hatchback.
More at: http://www.nissan-carwings.com
English press release from DoCoMo here
Nissan press release (Japanese) here.