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Vindigo to expand service--for a fee

The company, which sends movie and restaurant information to handhelds, says it's prepared to announce an upgraded service, and it plans to charge $25 a year for it.

Vindigo, the company known for delivering movie times and restaurant information to handhelds, plans to announce Monday that it is upgrading its flagship product and will charge $25 a year for the service.

CEO Jason Devitt said in an interview that Vindigo 2.0 will offer new features such as museum and live music listings as well as full-color maps. Vindigo will offer a free trial of the new, paid service, and those who sign up by March 31 will receive an introductory offer of $19.95 for the first year. Current Vindigo users can receive a free trial starting this week.

For those who don't want to pay, an extremely basic version of the service, known as Vindigo Lite, will continue to be available for free. That software offers less than the current version of Vindigo, providing a listing but no directions for restaurants, and movie times, but not reviews.

The move is not Vindigo's first foray into paid services. Last year the company introduced a Pocket PC version of its service and has been charging $30 for it. About 30 percent of those who signed up for a free demo became paying customers, Devitt said, although he would not say how many Pocket PC customers the company has.

Vindigo has 500,000 users of its free Palm OS service.

Vindigo is also trying to move quickly into the cell phone market, preparing a version of the service for Qualcomm's BREW operating system. Devitt said the company's next target is the mobile J2ME version of Java, which will allow Vindigo's service to run on a wide variety of mobile devices.

Devitt said the reason Vindigo is charging is that it now offers enough features that people are willing to pay.

"When we first brought out the product, people liked it, but it wasn't good enough to charge for it," Devitt said.

The company is looking to rebound from 2001 when it was forced to pare staff.

Devitt said the company is now targeting profitability for the first quarter of next year and plans to add a small amount of staff this year.

"It's still a tough environment," Devitt said, but added he does believe there will be a handful of mobile services companies that become billion-dollar public companies. Although Devitt still hopes Vindigo might yet become one of those companies, he would not rule out being acquired.

"We're always open to discussions," Devitt said. "We're not currently involved in any (merger) discussions."