Can Sendero Meet the Challenges and Offer a Full-Featured GPS App That People Will Actually Buy?

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

It's been reported that Sendero is in the early stages of developing a full-featured GPS application for the iPhone.

Most of you are probably aware of the Sendero Group, and many of you will have used their location-based information and navigation systems for the blind. Considering how highly-regarded these GPS systems are, and the company's near 20 years of experience, it is easy to be excited by news of an iOS application. However, it also raises some questions.

Firstly, is Sendero simply too late to the game? Existing apps such as Navigon, Ariadne, MyWay and Where To are mature and established products. They are fully accessible, and when used in conjunction can offer a very comprehensive set of location-based tools. That's why most of us probably already own and use a number of GPS applications, both for routing and exploring the area around us. We've invested time and money into buying and learning these apps, so Sendero will need to find something to make their application an essential download for blind iDevice users.

The one feature that is currently missing from existing products is detailed and useful information for blind users about cross-streets and intersections. If available in the Sendero app, would it be enough to have you reaching for your credit card?

Well, I guess that's likely to depend upon how Sendero handles the challenge of finding a price point that generates enough sales to meet the costs of developing and marketing the app. And this will be a significant challenge, as Sendero is used to operating in a very different market, one based upon low volumes and high margins. As any one familiar with the iTunes Store will tell you, that's not the way that the App market works, where $50-70 can currently equip a blind user with a selection of apps that will provide tools and features very close to what could cost several thousand dollars on a specialist device.

Sendero will need to make quite a shift in their culture and business model if they are to set a price point that will fit with what people are used to paying in this market. This might be particularly difficult for them, as it could effectively kill the market for many of their other products. If a $50 app and an iPhone can provide as much functionality to a blind user as a dedicated GPS device, but at a fraction of the price, it's easy to see where the wise money would go.

I suspect that the Sendero accounts would probably indicate that a fair amount of the blind dollar has already moved from dedicated devices to iDevices and the App Store. It will be interesting to see if Sendero can catch-up with the market, or if it has already left them behind.

Personally, the apps that I already use probably meet 95% of my needs. Sendero could potentially add that missing 5%. They could also make everything available in a single application, which would have some advantage over my current, patched-together, solution. It would also be nice to double-tap the 'Update' button each time a new version is released, fairly confident that VoiceOver support hasn't been compromised. Will this come at a price that I am prepared to pay? Probably not, as I suspect the price that Sendero will need to charge just won't be worth that 5% of extra functionality.

Has Sendero missed the boat, or can they come up with an app that would have you heading off to the App Store? What features would you want to see, and what would you be willing to pay for them? Would you prefer a flat-rate price or a subscription service? Let us know what you think by posting a comment.

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12 Comments

Sendero GPS app

David, good post, it's exactly what I'm sure a lot of us are wondering the most about a full featured GPS app from Sendero. The price point will be crucial here. My first take when hearing about such an app was to get excited about the prospect, then I almost cringed when I thought about how much it might cost. A couple of years agoI got a $6,000 notetaker with Sendero and within a year I had to shell out another hundred to get the updated maps and software. Based on the GPS apps I already own, I would still be interested in buying a Sendero app if the pricing was comparable to existing apps plus a reasonable premium for getting implicit accessibility from a proven quality GPS app for the visually impaired.
I would prefer a fixed price but realize that if it's not a subscription based fee the price might be too high for me to take the plunge. A monthly subscription of more than $10 a month would be more than I'd be willing to pay.

2 big factors

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

I think Sendero will find it very hard to get the price down to a level that people will be prepared to pay.There are 2 factors. The first is the expectations of the market. iDevice owners simply aren't used to paying high prices for apps. True, a fully-featured GPS application is likely to be the most expensive app that most of us will buy, but we still expect a lot for our money. When Sendero do come to market, most of us will look at their app and compare it against Navigon. We will expect it to have all the features of Navigon, plus more. It will need to have all the routing options of Navigon, plus the features that are specific to blind users. We'll expect better support in pedestrian mode. We'll expect the app to be far more proactive in telling us our current location and what is around us. If it does all this, we'll accept that there should be a premium over the price of Navigon. But, how much of a premium will we accept? From what I have read elsewhere, this seems to top out at $100.And that brings us to the second factor, which is whether it's actually possible for Sendero to sell an app for a price that the market will accept. If we again take Navigon as our point of reference, and give it a typical price of $50. That price is based upon very different economics. It's based upon Navigon being a mass market product that sells in the hundreds of thousands. That means they have great economies of scale. They can negotiate good prices on the services and resources that they need to buy in (such as map licenses), and can work on relatively low margins. Sendero simply won't have any of that. Instead, they will have a niche product, with all the economic constraints which that brings.I think that it will be a tough challenge to match expectations with what is commercially viable.

What Sendero can do to woo us again

I've spent time this wonderful warm Spring exploring with my old GPS-Talk, LoadStone, Navigon and Ariadne GPS.

The more I use these tools the clearer my picture of what I'd like to see in a navigation app becomes.

Since we've already discussed cross-street and intersection descriptions, I won't belabor that. But here's the thing: I don't believe that many blind people constantly travel to new places. Most of us go to work, to the store, and home. We might have a few weekend events, or be in school, but unless you are a business traveler, you just aren't going that many unfamiliar places outside of vacation.

And the problem is, product managers, whether they work for Freedom Scientific, Humanware, Sendero or Navigon are travelers and salespeople. They aren't average, and they do not occupy our universe!

Understanding then that these frequent fliers are not the average blind guy, you ask: what does the average guy want in a navigation app? I'll try to answer that from my perspective.

I'm jaded first of all about all this dependence on the cloud. Sure, the tech-savvy blind people are posting tweets and facebook updates, but the average blind community college students I work with, and the blind seniors I meet on paratransit are not. I use an iPOD and not an iPhone because I don't want those data charges, and even for people who do have Internet on the phone, with the state of the economy, the likelihood of future usage caps and the reality that many people live in suburbs where cellular coverage is less ubiquitous, it's imperative that at least the current map is not repeatedly accessed from a cloud-based server. After all, the cost of storage keeps decreasing, the amount of local storage increases, and I don't see the same thing happening with cellular data! So I think we average folks want the map stored locally.

For me, the most overlooked option is the ability to track where I came from and where I'm going when a map isn't practical. When I'm trying to find a new classroom, the Walmart entrance or a way through the parking lot to get to the starbucks, map dependence is a liability.

I want to be able to quickly save a poi once I've found it and always easily be able to ask the app where I am in relation to that poi, independent of the map. For the interface, I could tap on the "off road" button and it would say "Pizza heaven north 900 yards; Walmart garden entrance southeast 1.2 miles". Then without moving, I'd tap the "on road" button and it would say "4th street is thirty feet behind and to the left; the intersection of 4th and B is 800 yards to your right."

I've also seen that due to geolocation, the location of a poi is its actual address, and not its entrance. So though I might still need to know the "map" or geolocated position for Pizza Heaven, after I've traversed its ginormous parking lot, I'll want to label its side entrance as well. So I need a different voice for those off-road locations I've created myself separate from the automatic and geolocated ones the app is aware of.

For the user, there could be different terms; a poi is what the mapping software knows about; a "landmark" is a poi the user created. Listening to the poi and landmark voices reading out your locations, you have a much richer navigation experience as you grow to know an area intimately.

And to facilitate easier landmark creation, we need to avoid trying to type on tiny keyboards while out and about. If one hand is tied up with guide dog or cane, and there's the cacophony of traffic and clashing shopping carts, the user really needs to make an audio note about each landmark.

With all the storage space available on devices these days, I don't see why landmarks cannot be saved as audio notes.
Yesterday, as I struggled to type while carrying my groceries and handling my dog, I wanted to simply mark the store's front entrance with an audio note, especially because it was nowhere near its officially geolocated address! Later, back at the home or office, where it's peaceful and quiet, users could add text labels to these notes.

Also after getting out and exploring, whether it's by foot, car, paratransit or bus, once home, you can re-explore that map with a richer source of information: all those audio landmarks you created on the route.

We also want to be able to ride the bus or paratransit van and know what we are passing. Sometimes the vehicle moves too fast for us to listen to all that, so trip logging features need to be stronger. The product needs a record trip in realtime feature and a playback with the ability to stop and explore each area you pass through, including learning about locations nearby. Having it announce locations you pass isn't good enough; you need a way to record and play back so you can slowly examine the route your bus, your wife, or your inept taxi driver took.

Let's also examine what happens when we get lost. You are frustrated, and of course you feel like the last pedestrian on earth. Even if the GPS tells you where you are, if you're lost, you're lost and you wish oh so much that it could multitask a bit better. If it could record every step you took, back home you could retrace that route and figure out where you made that wrong turn. If it were easy to make audio notes you could record things like "Here's where there's a huge pine tree", "here's where I start to hear the construction on the other side of the chain-link fence" and "I smell doughnuts at this intersection."

It's true that cobbling together a suite of existing iDevice apps, we can achieve many of the above results. But I don't want to run six different apps. I want one good, solid, designed for blind folks navigation app. And I want it not to be designed by people who design use cases with business travelers. I want ordinary blind people attempting to find Petco after the bus let them off at the wrong stop to be the use case for this product!

So Sendero has many opportunities to enhance the Navigation experience for us. They can capitalize on the good features we already enjoy with existing free and low-cost apps, and for say, $50, bring out one app that does it all.

There is another problem with products in general. Marketing guys enhance the positive and don't want to hear about what users dislike. But to succeed, Sendero needs to actively seek complaints about products like Trekker, StreetTalk, Navigon, and even their own GPS-talk or off-the-shelf systems like Tom-Tom, Garmin and Roadmate from blind and sighted people alike. This way they will develop a fine product which doesn't have previous annoyances.

And, if they enriched the "off-road" features of an app, it could be a real marketing opportunity. The off-road version isn't going to suffer from the requirement they pay licensing fees to map vendors. Navigation apps are cheap because they don't have to pay fees to google as long as the map isn't offline. One reason Sendero products were so pricey was those licensing fees!

So they could sell the off-road version for 99 cents, even allowing it to import open-street map data for ambitious users. They could offer a free version that depended on online maps, handled off-road usage gracefully and regularly reminded users how cool the paid version was.

The fully map-enhanced version would of course cost more, but add commercial, offline maps and the full features of a Sendero product. They could even offer several tiers of the on-road version: a cheaper product that required online access or only did pedestrian navigation or a more expensive product that stored maps on the device. They could adopt the Navigon marketing model of selling cheaper versions with fewer maps, allowing users to purchase maps as needed.

Or, they could follow a subscription model, so that when you were on vacation you could subscribe to New York, but not have that map on your device afterwards.

These blindness companies need to think out of the box. They need to ask what's wrong and not have product managers be simply warmed-over sales people but rather troubleshooters who are able to bushwhack new marketing routes!

Update on Seeing Eye GPS app for the iPhone

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Mike May from Sendero has given the following update on this project:

It is too early to say much about the Seeing Eye GPS app for the iPhone other than it is in the works. The intention is that it will have a straight forward easy to use user interface with turn by turn capabilities. We had a couple user group sessions at CSUN to get everyone&;s wish list for an iPhone app.

I to worry about the price

I to think they will struggle to produce something 'must have' for a price most people will be willing to pay.

The world has moved on. I remember getting KNFB Reader for my NOkia - it cost almost £300. If they brought it out on the iPhone, it would have to be £20 or £30 for people to bother. I suspect this is why they haven't.

I wish KickStarter was world wide, then they could try it on there and we could put our money upfront. At least then they'd know if it was worth the bother.

Ios 6 gps feature

David, i'm from Argentina and bought Tomtom. I wold waith iOS 6. Apple is thinking in the accessibility, we watched that video in the keynote. I know that the new feature will replace de map exploring of Ariadne, i'd like to know if also can tell you the street that you're going to cross. But if sender developed a better app, i'd buy it. However, the new maps app won't be available in olders models, it wold be welcome to be used in that

1 year on

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

With this app now seemingly getting very close to hitting the App Store, it&;s perhaps timely to revive this old post and ask once again what you will be prepared to pay?;s website, the Seeing Eye GPS app will include all the normal navigation features that you would expect from a traditional GPS, plus features unique to blind users. These include:

  • Instead of multiple layers of menus, the 3 important navigation elements are on the lower portion of every screen, Route, POIs and Location.
  • At intersections, the street name and your direction of travel are announced.
  • Intersections are described like 4-way with the clock face orientation of the streets.
  • There are three choices for POI data (Navteq, Foursquare, and OSM) and two map sources (Navteq and OSM).
  • Directions are configured appropriately for Pedestrian and vehicle routes including heads up when approaching a turn, the turn now indication, continue straight and where the subsequent turn is located.
  • When the user wanders off the route, it is automatically recalculated and updated turn information is announced.
  • Point your phone in a given direction to hear what is nearby with the LookAround Wand.
  • Nearby Points of interest and intersections are automatically announced.

These will be nice features to have in a single application, but the big question still remains - what will it cost?Personally, I keep looking at what I already have installed on my iPhone. Much of what the Seeing Eye app will offer is already there, albeit split across a number of applications. Accordingly, I can&;t help but think of it as more of an upgrade to what I have rather than something new, and that has a knock-on for how I am likely to evaluate what it is financially going to be worth to me.If I didn&;t already have Navigon, Blindsquare and the like ... well, I&;m sure that the Seeing Eye app would be worth far more to me.Assuming that I am not alone in my thinking, we again come back to another of the questions that I asked over 12 months ago, which is whether Sendero are too late to the market for many of us?It will be extremely interesting to see how Sendero price this app - be that a one-off payment or a subscription service.In the meantime, I would love to hear what others think about the pricing of the app now that we know more about what it will offer.

Sendero GPS App

Being a blind college student and having a braillenote Apex with Sendero GPS software on it plus an iPhone, I was wondering if GPS on my phone would be something I would be interested in. When Sendero was asking for beta testers of the app I applied and got in. I can tell you that whatever Sendero chooses to charge I'm sure a few blind people will pay for it. I know I would and will if the beta testers aren't given a free version. I look at app prices like this. The developer needs to eat like the rest of us so what will the app do for me in the long run? I really don't like having three or four GPS apps open at a time and having to switch between them because to me it just wastes time. I can tell you as a beta tester it works just as well as Sendero's other products. I use it every day when navigating on campus. I like the foursquare integration because my campus is litterally littered with foursquare POIS. Intersection announcement for those who are wondering works great as well. Getting my degree in sound engineering I can see myself traveling a lot and I think that Sendero GPS for iPhone will work for anybody no matter what the cost.

Should I wait for Sendero to be released or get Navigon?

Well, I've been going back and forth a bit on what to do... Mostly I need an app that can give me directions to get from point A to B while walking. Currently I've got Ariadne and Blindsquare, but none of them gives me that information. So I've been thinking about getting Navigon for a while, and now it's gotten more urgent than ever, since I'm starting in a new job in one week. I've been delaying the purchase of Navigon, mainly because I was not sure if the europian version that I'm going to use is just as accessible as the one for North America, which I'e heard is very accessible. But now that Sendero is just around the corner, maybe I should wait for it being released and go for Sendero instead...?
I don't think I want to spend money to buy both, and especially since the comments in this post suggests that Sendero can get quite on the expensive side...
And Navigon isn't exactly one of the cheaper once either... So if I now go ahead and spend my money on Navigon, do you think I will regret doing that when Sendero is released? Is there any other good options to chose from when it comes to turn by turn directions when walking that I can try without having to mortgage my apartment to be able to afford it?
I apologize if this comment is posted on the wrong forumpost. This is probably a little bit of topic to the original topic...
But if anyone can offer their suggestions on this, I would once again be a very happy guy! ;)

buying decision

from the podcast published by Applevis during CSUN, it sounded like there'll be a flat price for the app as opposed to a subscription based fee. For me, I would prefer the flat one-time price, probably would not buy it if subscription based. Sendero also hinted at a $99 price, citing the comparable Android app. I bought Navigon at a great price ($15 for the U.S West region) and have not bought blind square in anticipation of the Sendero app. So I think I will bite the bullet and pay for Sendero as long s the price is indeed around 100 or less. I know many people won't buy it at that price but after listening to the podcast I get an appreciation of how much effort and expense goes into developing such an app. This will be by far the most expensive iPhone app I've paid for but I consider it a fair price for not having to switch so much between apps,particularly when walking around.

a few comments

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

One of the questions originally posed was whether Sendero will lose some of their note taker gps market. My answer to that is that they have and that this app is most likely in partial response to that demand. However, it will not replace something like the Sense Navigation or Braille Note GPS packages altogether for 2 reasons. 1. Because of the way iOS works, you cannot give the device commands with a keyboard or braille display to obtain certain information as quickly, such as speed of travel and direction, along with the name of the city you're in. All these features are available with the press of 1 keyboard command in the note takers. Also, braille support doesn't seem to be as tightly integrated, again, partially because of the limitations of braille support on iDevices. however, as they seem to indicate in the podcast without saying so, it would seem braille is taking a much lower priority. So if it's a higher priority for you than them, it may or may not be worth the investment. 2. Unlike the above mentioned gps packages, maps are not stored on your iDevice. It's good because they take up a lot of storage, but bad because when you lose a data connection, you lose the service. I hope they will reconsider not having downloadable maps as an option for those times when cellular data is not available.
I wouldn't pay over $100 for this, may pay $75, and would most likely pay $50. $75 would be more reasonable with the option of being able to download maps if you know that you will be in an area where cellular data coverage is not available.

downloadable maps

I want to echo the sentiment that the ability to download maps would make a difference in what I'd pay for the app and even if I'd purchase it at all. I do wish I could recoup the money I spent years ago, more than $1000 just for a set of Atlas Speaks maps that I could never really use because I just could not get enough RAM. I don't feel like $100 is out of line, because I'm not comparing it to iPhone apps, but to all the thousands of dollars I spent on technology over the years trying to give myself more freedom. Most of it is garbage at the moment. I spent $50 on Navigon while on vacation because I wanted every piece of information and freedom it courld give me. It was worth it to me, even if it only allowed me to go places, get lost, with nobody around, and find my way home. I think Sendero will do something that gives me more, but if I can't choose to download a map to give me access in places where coverage comes and goes, it is useless. Or at least not something I can depend on and I won't spend the money on something unreliable. I should say, that I am also someone who is more restless than the average human. And I want a lot. In my Ariadne favorites I have points at the top and bottom of a mountain - well, yes, I did that one with a sighted friend, but it did have me thinking how much I could do alone with better battery extenders.