co pilotALK Technologies Inc has launched the first “off-board” version of its Co-Pilot satellite navigation mapping application. The BlackBerry Pearl and 8800 are both compatible with the system. There are types of GPS systems - on-board and, not surprisingly, off-board. On-board systems carry all the amps from which routes are calculated on the device, while off-board systems carry only the ability to display the route info that is downloaded over the air from a central server.

To date, New Jersey-based ALK Technologies has been strictly an “on-board” player since it launched CoPilot in the late 1990s. The software was first launched on laptop computers where on-device storage is less of a constraint. CoPilot Laptop is currently at version. 10, Recently however the company developed versions for portable devices, initially for the iPAQ PDA and now for smart phones, such as the BlackBerry. The product's presence in Europe is currently on Windows Mobile devices from HTC and Symbian phones from Nokia.

The new version, CoPilot Live BlackBerry Edition, is both the first appearance of the software on that platform and ALK's first foray into “off-board”. All the third-party GPS packages that run on BlackBerry, such as Telmap and Wayfinder, are off-board because off-board generates more data traffic, and is preferred by network operators who see greater revenue as a result. According to the company, the reason for the development of an off-board version of CoPilot for the two BlackBerry phones was that it was easier to implement on their Java RTE. An on-board version for BlackBerry is currently in development.

While use of ALK's GPS package on the Pearl still requires an external puck with the GPS silicon, the 8800 launched earlier this week is RIM's first device with the GPS chip built in. The 8800 also ships with some basic mapping capabilities developed by RIM itself, based on map info from TeleAtlas NV. ALK and other mapping specialists, including Telmap, say their products go a lot further and so believe their carrier partners will continue to mandate their software be loaded on the devices for their GPS services. The CoPilot's ability to calculate multiple routes for the same stops is particularly useful in fleet management for delivery environments.

CoPilot also uses maps from TeleAtlas's archrival Navteq. Another difference is the fact that CoPilot offers optional integration into ALK's FleetCenter multi-vehicle tracking and fleet management web site, an area where RIM itself does not offer something similar.