Monday was a rather full day with the folks from TeleNav. They brought twenty of us in from all over the country to share some of their strategic plans and get our thoughts and suggestions regarding their current and upcoming products. We started at 7:30am and didn’t finish until after 10pm. Yes, there IS that much to talk about with regard to GPS and location-based services. During the day we learned a good deal about the company and, I must say, I’m impressed by what they do and where there are going.
One of the more interesting things that emerged from the day was the realization that I likely bump into TeleNav’s technologies far more often than I realize. They are there, but I don’t know it. And it left a nagging question of “Whose brand is it anyway?”
Let me explain.
Four of my first smartphones came from a company out of Dubai called Imate. What I did not realize at the time however, was that iMate simply branded and distributed the phones. The phones themselves, however, were developed and produced by HTC. They were the ones who are developing the technology. They were the ones who had a vision with regard to where phones could go. They were the ones who were central in creating the smartphone market. Yet few if anyone knew who they were. The sweat and hard work belonged to HTC. The brand recognition and glory belonged to Imate.
A few years ago, HTC decided to change that. They decided to step out from the background. They began branding and selling their phones directly. That gave them recognition and the ability to innovate on their terms. The result, Imate quickly disappeared and HTC continues to be one of the biggest phone manufacturers in the world.
For years I’ve used Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I currently use MacSpeech Dictate on my iMac and the MacBook Pro and it is powered by Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking engine. What I did not know until recently is that Nuance’s speech recognition technology is everywhere. If your iPhone application does anything with speech recognition it likely is using Nuance’s technology. If your car has any technology that “speaks to you” it’s likely using the company’s technology. If you interact with most any device your device in either direction with voice the odds are pretty good that you’re using something that is powered by the technology nuance has developed and refined over the last years. Most of the time, however, you don’t know it.
That’s beginning to change. If you look at numerous applications on the iPhone you will discover they use Nuance’s technology through words like “Powered by Nuance” on the splash screen. And it makes sense. The company should get credit for their hard work and the company should be known as the leader in voice to text technology.
During my time in Cupertino I discovered that TeleNav is in a similar position to HTC and Nuance. Until I spent some time with the company I didn’t really know much about them other than the fact that they did something for AT&T with regard to developing AT&T’s GPS application — AT&T Navigator. In truth TeleNav provides the GPS functionality for AT&T cell phones, for Sprint cell phones and for a host of other technologies that we aren’t even aware of. There are millions of people who use their technology on a daily basis. Yet anyone casually looking at AT&T Navigator will not see TeleNav’s name except as a footnote. For example this post from one of my favorite technology blogs — The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)– describes the recent upgrade of this way
(Side note- TUAW’s Rene Ritchie was in Cupertino for Waypoint too. Awesome guy!!)
While it is true that the GPS application on my iPhone is branded “AT&T Navigator”, the application is all TeleNav. It is their technology, their vision for how GPS application should work, and their project in every regard. I came away from my visit with TeleNav aware that, like Nuance and HTC before them, one of the biggest challenges facing the company is the fact that they do what they do tremendously well and in numerous places but they rarely get the recognition for it. That is something that I know can, and I hope will, change.
From a technology perspective, one of the biggest changes of the last year or so is the wealth of new location-based services. I am now used to having many of my applications tell me where I am and, in some way, use the GPS chip in my iPhone to add functionality. My day in Cupertino gave me some insight into this particular company and the ways in which they are poised to have even greater impact on everything related to GPS and location-based functions. When they do I hope it will be branded TeleNav and that, in the process, we’ll see even more innovation than ever.