Research in Motion has taken the next step in its location-based services strategy by adding MapQuest's “Find Me” application to its BlackBerry 7520 wireless handsets operating on Sprint Nextel's national network.

Previously, the handset's global positioning satellite (GPS) application enabled first responders to locate the device during emergencies. Now, the Find Me application also lets enterprise users pinpoint their own locations, access maps and directions, and locate nearby points of interest. A group communication function lets users create private networks in which members can share their current locations, as well as locate other members and identify their locations via a “buddy-list” feature.

“So, if you work with a group of people, you can keep track of them by looking at a map on your BlackBerry,” said Jeff McDowell, RIM's director of global alliances, who noted that this function is opt-in to mitigate any privacy issues.

In addition, users can create alerts that will notify them through SMS or e-mail when other opt-in users arrive at or depart a given location. The handset also provides push-to-talk capability via Motorola's iDEN platform.

The Find Me application was added with field technicians and delivery personnel in mind, McDowell said. “If you're a repairman and you spend your day driving around fixing bank machines or photocopiers, instead of living with your map you live with this application, because it tells you the route you need to go on.”

The device also lets users research restaurant genres in unfamiliar cities and then provides the location, a map and text-based directions. For travelers who wish to avoid the challenge of reading directions while trying to keep their eyes on the road, Sprint Nextel BlackBerry customers can subscribe to a voice-based “turn-by-turn” navigation application developed by Santa Clara, Calif.-based TeleNav that has done “extremely well,” with more than 10,000 subscribers since its launch in May 2005, McDowell said.

“It's similar to the service you get from the rental-car companies where the woman talks to you and says, ‘turn left [at the next intersection],’” he said. “You get that same exact application on BlackBerry.”

But Philipp Muelbert, principal with Adventis, doesn't believe the Find Me application will be as popular with enterprise workers as it will with “prosumers,” business professionals who also use their devices heavily in their private lives. “These are traveling consumers who are heavy e-mail users,” he said. “Other Nextel applications, such as navigation, are more enterprise focused. What makes this one unique is that consumers are very familiar with MapQuest. This is not an enterprise play.”

Muelbert added that the TeleNav and Find Me applications are similar enough that enterprise users will have trouble differentiating between them, which will limit the latter's market potential.

“There is limited incremental functionality that Nextel has added to its portfolio,” he said.

Although the Find Me application was developed specifically for Sprint Nextel because iDEN-based handsets are the only ones to date that feature a built-in GPS receiver, users of any Bluetooth-enabled BlackBerry can access the application via a GPS “puck” manufactured by Olathe, Kan.-based Garmin International.

“You can put [the puck] anywhere,” McDowell said. “Some people put it in their shirt pocket, and a lot just keep it in their car. … The most popular hand-held, because it is an all-in-one solution, is the Sprint Nextel one, but you see people using this type of functionality with all of our [Bluetooth] hand-helds.”

Working with another alliance partner, RIM has integrated the Find Me application with Comet Tracker, developed by Tampa-based ActSoft, to let dispatchers keep track of Find Me-enabled vehicles and send them alerts in the case of an incident.

“Let's say something happens at the corner of First and Main,” McDowell said. “They can look to see which police car is closest to there and send them, as opposed to getting on the radio and asking who's closest and waiting for them to respond.”

Another advantage for public safety is that the Find Me application on the Sprint Nextel network leverages both satellite-based and cellular-based GPS capabilities, McDowell said.

“They can get information from the cell tower in terms of the direction the person is moving. It's called assisted GPS, which the private radio network wouldn't have,” he said. “They'd only be working from satellite, and when you're just working from satellite, the response is extremely slow. So, a cop may have moved, but you won't know where he's moved to for like two minutes. The AGPS system we've deployed is much quicker.”