Waterloo, Ont.-based Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS) Inc. has rolled out an in-car device that gives users of Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry the ability to operate their smartphones via voice commands. But in today’s struggling economy, at least one industry analyst says the product’s steep price tag could make it a luxury most businesses will be hard pressed to afford.
The iLane is a portable hardware device that plugs into your car’s 12 volt cigarette lighter and syncs up to BlackBerry 8800 series handhelds via Bluetooth connectivity. Once plugged in, the device can read e-mail, news and weather reports to the user out loud, as well as provide access and control over smartphone applications such as SMS messaging and calendar functionality.
Besides plugging in the iLane device, users will also have to download a small application to their BlackBerry phones.
“As soon as you get into your car with your BlackBerry, the iLane takes over your smartphone,” Ken Truffen, vice-president of marketing at IMS, said. When users turn on the device, he added, iLane will automatically inform them how many new e-mail messages or calendar appointments they have for the day and also give them the option to read and respond to each of them.
Users looking to respond to their e-mail via text will be disappointed, however, as iLane does not currently feature voice-to-text capabilities. The device responds by sending an mp3 recording of your voice.
As for the services that iLane does have, IMS highlighted its partnerships with the Associated Press and with The Weather Network. The deal will give users the ability to listen to news, weather and sports using iLane.
“We gearing this toward enterprises users, the road warriors out there who spend a fair amount of time within their vehicles travelling around,” Truffen said. All the data is encrypted (256-bit), he said, and stays within the vehicle with no need for an external server connection.
“We’ve been using this with government agencies and banks within the U.S. and Canada and we’ve gotten thumbs-up across the board,” Truffen added.
But whether the device will receive support from enterprise bean counters remains to be seen.
iLane is coming to market at a suggested retail price of $600, plus an additional $8 a month for the service itself. At least one analyst said that regardless of the iLane’s quality, its steep price tag will probably be its downfall.
“Economically it’s going to be out-of-reach for most people,” Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, said. “It’s a luxury that most people aren’t going to be able to afford, especially with voice-enabling software increasingly becoming available at cheaper prices.”
Rogers Wireless has recently launched a voice-to-text message service, while smaller companies such as Cambridge, Mass.-based vlingo Corp. are offering freely downloadable mobile apps, which allow for voice-enabled text messaging and searching on BlackBerry devices.
“You don’t need a dedicated mobile appliance do to this,” Tauschek said. “When you actually get the product, the core of it is actually installing an application on your BlackBerry 8800 phone, so all the iLane box does is take text and convert it to audio.”
“It’s neat and everything, but it’s a pretty expensive neat, if you ask me,” he added.
Tauschek said the device could see some uptake among C-level executives, but ultimately its price will render it a “high-end business device that won’t largely be purchased by businesses.”
The fact that iLane won’t support Windows Mobile and Symbian devices until next year will also limit its uptake in the short term, he said.
“Sure, there’s plenty of BlackBerry 8800 handhelds out there, but enough to sustain a company at $600 a piece — even with a one per cent take rate on those phones — is a bit optimistic,” Tauschek added.