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Phone navigation is a critical aging in place technology

By 2013, phone-based navigation will be the dominant form of turn-by-turn navigation -- today more than one-third of North American consumers own or use some form of navigation services. So says a new Forrester Research analysis.

But for today's older boomers (53-63) and seniors (64+), the largest percentage (21% and 16% respectively) are using dedicated portable navigation devices or PNDs (like Garmin's or TomTom's) for their navigation needs. Moving forward, boomers and seniors should check for phone-based navigation capability in their phones when they upgrade. And enterprising vendors should consider designing apps that take advantage of it. Why?

Phone navigation is cheap. Even for those happy Garmin and TomTom users, boomers and seniors should add phone navigation. These (voice as well as screen) capabilities are available at multiple and very low price points -- Verizon Wireless VZ Navigator and Sprint Navigation are available as a $9.99 monthly service and AT&T offers the same capability for $9.95. According to Forrester, the carriers see the service as one of their current big revenue generators.

It's available on nearly all cell phones -- and updates are immediate. Unlike portable navigation devices like the TomTom, with phone-based navigation, updates to routes (or restroom locations) happen over the same wireless network that becomes available when the phone is turned on. And GPS-equipped phones will be largely available to the vast majority of phone subscribers by late 2010. In addition, they can interact with other location-sensitive applications -- like current maps, real-time traffic, or apps that help find gas stations or restrooms in New York).

Phone navigation will keep us from getting lost outside the car. According to Forrester, navigation will be increasingly be as usable for walking around our neighorhood or on vacation as it is for driving -- like today's Nokia Asia Maps application, in which the user can specify whether directions are for on foot or for travel by car.

FCC E-911 initiative drove vendors to incorporate location assistance.  With so many young peole giving up landlines, the FCC insisted that carriers comply with this E-911 government regulation. So ensuring that a cell phone can be located by police or firefighter is one reason that location-based services are now pervasive. Good news for seniors, that means that not only can the phone be used to provide directions, that same capability enables a person with a phone to be located in an emergency.

Apps are needed -- transportation. So we know the boomer and senior population are swelling. What can vendors provide? As boomers and seniors age, they may remain longer within their own neighborhoods. So they need access to services that make it appealing and feasible to leave the house, with or without a car. That means apps to help them find bus routes and nearest stops or identify available and nearby ride sharing.

Apps are needed -- services. Perhaps a medical map, showing where a nearby pharmacy, emergency room or walk-in clinic might be.  Or perhaps a 'senior friend finder' application that helps people participate in transportation buddy systems, helps them know what activities are in town and who else may be headed going to a local event. And service directories for seniors -- like and RetirementHomes, SnapforSeniors and many others are evolving and growing. Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, as their offerings expand they will consider linking in location-related applications for use by residents and families.