10:25 AM

Get Me Out Of Here

Squinty-eyed cell-phone users have a new way to get around town. Earthcomber has debuted a free service that provides maps and directions on Windows Mobile-based PDAs and smart phones.

The Earthcomber service, already available on Palm devices, is built from GPS-enabled maps. Travel directions from the service are available via Wi-Fi hot-spots or a cellular network.

Earthcomber also sells "spot guides," online guidebooks that can be customized. They might alert you, for example, when you're near a favorite retail chain in an unfamiliar city.

Location-based services for mobile devices are growing in popularity, with Google, Microsoft MSN, and Yahoo providing APIs to their Web-based maps. The result is free wireless services from companies such as Mobile GMaps and KMaps.

Wireless carriers are driving much of the activity. The merger of Sprint and Nextel has resulted in a large portfolio of map-related services and devices that use GPS.

Vendors are pushing the concept further. Earthcomber offers a feature that lets people join or create interest groups for sharing information on things such as historic sites or art galleries.

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