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MapQuest service homes in on BlackBerrys

MapQuest's "Find Me" GPS service finds its way into BlackBerry handhelds used by Sprint customers.

MapQuest on Monday announced that it has upgraded its "Find Me" GPS service to include location-based communication on BlackBerry handhelds used by Sprint customers.

MapQuest's location-based upgrade comes at a time when corporate America is increasingly interested in tracking its assets--including company cars, inventory and employees--as the work force becomes more mobile.

The upgrade is designed to allow users to pinpoint not only their own location but also those of co-workers, businesses and services, family members and friends. The Global Positioning System service is available to Sprint customers using Research In Motion's BlackBerry 7520.

Service users can create private networks in which colleagues, family members and friends can share their current location. When the account administrator enters a network member's phone number into a private Web site, a code is sent to that member's phone. The member then can share that code with the administrator, who can then enter it onto the private Web site.

Although authorization is needed only once to be a member of the private network, each time the application is launched, users will be asked whether they want to enable the GPS locator application for the duration of the session, said Austin Klahn, MapQuest's chief technology officer.

"It would be difficult to share (location) information and not be aware you are doing it," he noted.

Under the service, a user could find another network member through a system similar to that used for America Online's Buddy List. The location of that member would appear on a map on either the user's handheld device or via a private Web site.

The new service also aims to deliver alerts via SMS or e-mail when members arrive or depart from a designated area. The service is currently available on Sprint for $3.99 a month per phone.

Nextel Communications, which recently merged with Sprint, also offers the location-based group communication service on RIM's BlackBerry, an effort the companies had been discussing since last year.