Mapquest Expands Free Mobile Offerings

Mapping and direction service provider Mapquest has announced it’s breaking its mobile phone solutions free from custom fee-based Java and Brew applications by introducing a new, free mobile mapping service.

Users can navigate to the Mapquest site using either a PC-based browser or a mobile phone and call up directions usng Mapquest’s form-based interface. On a PC, users can send a route to their cell phone using a new “Send to Cell” link at the top of the directions: Mapquest will send an text message to your phone with a URL containing a link which pulls up your route information. Mapquest is providing the service for free, although mobile operators will undoubtedly ding users for the text and data service. (Also, some carriers routinely drop text messages with embedded URLs, so you may be better off navigating to the Mapquest site directly using your cell phone—although that will naturally ring up more data charges than loading a single page.) However, the convenience of being able to configure maps using a desktop PC interface (tweaking directions and taking advantage of options like avoiding toll roads) may make the “Send to Cell” option a winner for many users.

The move could be a major step for Mapquest as it tries to compete with mapping services from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other Internet giants. Mapquest continues to offer mapping services via Java and Brew applications on a fee-based basis on particular carriers or on certain GPS devices, but the new free service potentially brings Mapquest’s directions service to tens of millions of handsets with Internet browser capability. And, of course, the service provides Mapquest the opportunity to tap into a much wider audience for location-based advertising appearing alongside its free service.