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While not a GPS technology, Dial Directions is a new type of navigation service which will send directions as a text message to your mobile phone. Currently available in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, the process is fairly straight forward– call the number, say where you are, say where you want to go, and then watch for a text message with directions. So how well does it work?

The system is free, and no registration is required. To get the process started, pickup your cellphone and dial DIR-ECT-IONS. For the alpha challenged that works out to 347-328-4667. A voice will answer the line and ask if you want directions to an address/intersection, or to a retail chain location. I asked it for a Staples store nearest my current location of 767 Fifth Ave, NYC. It found several Staples locations and asked me to pick one. I picked the location at 730 3rd Avenue. The voice then told me thanks, and said that I would get directions from MapQuest via text message shortly. Sure enough, within a few seconds I received the following text message.

Trip: 1.4 mi to 730 3RD
Go SW on 5th toward W 58th (0.1)
L @ E 57th (0.5)
R @ 2nd (0.6)
R @ E 45th (0.1)
R @ E3RD (0.03)
END #730

Although it looks a little bit cryptic at first, it didn’t take long to figure out what everything was supposed to mean. The automated system never missed a step interpreting what I was saying, and the text message was delivered immediately after the call was ended.

We were pretty satisfied with the quick test we made, although I’m not sure this will appeal to too many people. Smartphone owners also will typically have access to a mapping service from their phone already. And if you don’t life in SF Bay, NYC, or LA you are currently out of luck.

It would have been nice to have an estimate of the total time included instead of just total distance. However, I could see this type of service being very practical and handy for pedestrians– especially if they offered a way to specify a pedestrian route. A tourist in NYC might not want to carry both a portable GPS and a mobile phone. But If they could specify a pedestrian route they could leave their GPS behind and just take their mobile phone. Maybe that is a feature for Dial Directions to consider while they are still in beta. 🙂

Note too that Google has a similar feature many people might not know about. If you send a text message to 466453 (which spells out GOOGLE) on your phone and enter in text of something like “767 Fifth Ave, New York, NY to 730 3rd Ave, New York, NY” you will get a text message back with driving directions as well. You will have to weigh the options of typing that out on your phone versus talking to an automated phone system and pick the lesser of two evils. I was faster talking to the automated phone system with Dial Directions than my thumbs were on the phone for the Google service.

But the Dial Directions service is quick, easy, and to the point. Non-smartphone users who live in the coverage area will likely find it handy, and you can’t beat the price.

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