Skip to main content

Dear Readers,

As you may know, the GPS situation on Windows Mobile is becoming unacceptable.

We're not talking about the fact that on certain phones you need to go into settings and muck around with Program Com Ports and Hardware Com Ports (though that, too, is pretty unacceptable). We're talking about GPS being locked down. This has to stop and we need your help to stop it.

Read on for the rest of our letter to you, our readers (but we hope that Microsoft and the manufacturers are reading, too).

GPS is Being Deliberately Broken

What do we mean by 'locked down'? We mean that GPS is there, fully functional, yet hidden from the OS and third party applications by the carrier. With several devices, users have to resort to registry hacks or other, 3rd party programs to 'enable' GPS for Windows Mobile and 3rd party apps to access it. Verizon is by far the worst player in this little lock-down game, but the other carriers aren't innocent either.

Often this 'lock down' is pretty easy to get around -- huge shout out to MoDaCo for freeing our AT&T WinMo Standard devices -- sometimes it is not. In both cases it is, as we said, unacceptable.

Why is GPS locked down? Well, so that only one program on your device can access it. It's known by several names: VZ Navigator, AT&T Navigation, Sprint Navigation. They're all the same program, though, TeleNav. By locking down GPS to only work with TeleNav, the carriers (and TeleNav, we suspect) are trying to force users into paying the monthly fee for Telenav instead of using free alternatives.

Here's the thing: Many of us love TeleNav. Some of us pay for the unlimited subscription and use it when we travel. Some of us even endorse it to people over on-SD-solutions when we're confident they'll usually have data available in their travels. TeleNav is fast, stable, provides nice 3D views, and good voice prompts.

Despite the obvious quality of TeleNav, we feel that locking GPS down out of the box so that it will only work with TeleNav breaks GPS on a smartphone.

Broken GPS Breaks the User Experience

Locking down GPS and forcing users into a subscription that, for many of them, is unnecessary is just plain wrong. It's turning something into a for-pay service solely by blocking functionality for users who aren't savvy enough to know what's happening. It's the evil god of ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) driving his horde of minions to perform unholy acts upon Windows Mobile, corrupting it with his dark stain. It's a devil's bargain and it needs to stop.

Imagine if the WiFi on your device only worked with AT&T hotspots, for which you had to pay a subscription. Imagine if the Bluetooth chip on your Q9h only interacted with Motorola headsets. Imagine if your phone had software built-in that purposefully blocked all IM clients except for the carrier-approved version from working.

That's what we're standing for right now with GPS. For you, reading this at this site, the pain of this isn't so bad. You know enough to know that you can get GPS to work with other programs after a bit of searching and a bit of work. Most people don't know this. Most will either not use GPS or think that they have no choice but to pay the subscription fee to use TeleNav.

Broken GPS Breaks the Windows Mobile Platform

Since most people are stuck in that situation, GPS may as well not even be on the device as far as development is concerned. Imagine you have an idea that will finally, finally, manage to really bring some sort of social/location based networking to the masses. It's popular enough and easy enough and clever enough that it will garner enough wide usage to become the 'de facto' LBS app that everybody uses and nobody will bother mucking around with trying to get their friends to sign up for this friendfinder or that friendfinder, because your genius app is the friendfinder. There are dozens of these companies around right now, but maybe you've figured out the LBS/Social trick that they haven't yet (hint: it probably has to do with FaceBook. Shh!).

Now imagine you have to pick a smartphone platform to release it on. Windows Mobile is easy to develop for, right? Most Windows Mobile phones these days have GPS built-in and a lot of users know that, right? You want it to be popular both in the US and abroad, right? You want it to work on a wide array of devices from the very cheap to the high end, right? Windows Mobile seems like an awfully attractive platform for you, dear LBS developer.

Now imagine a customer on Verizon who knows their phone has GPS because they use it with TeleNav. They download your app, GPS doesn't work, they tell their friends your app sucks. Not good. Maybe it's time to look at another platform for your first launch.

We're writing to our readers, sure, but just as importantly, we are writing to Microsoft and their manufacturing partners. Microsoft: this situation hurts your app, Live Search. It hurts your platform, in that it confounds people and drives developers to other platforms -- platforms that offer location APIs to all apps, not just to select, for-pay partner apps. It hurts your users. It hurts us. We hurt.

If a phone supports GPS it should support GPS at the OS level and make it available for all apps, just as is done on other mobile platforms like the iPhone and Android. Windows Mobile still can claim to be more 'open' than any other platform out there (perhaps barring Android) because of the deep and powerful access to the bits of the OS made available to developers. But if functionality can be locked down willy-nilly at the whims of carriers, suddenly the platform becomes arbitrarily closed and we lose those bragging rights.

How Can We Fix This?

We as Windows Mobile users have complained to our carriers, but yes, we could and should do more. We should boycott devices with locked-down GPS, but honestly we're likely to buy them anyway and unlock the GPS ourselves via backdoor methods. Granted, these methods aren't often actually 'hacks' but just small configuration changes -- but these settings should be the default.

So we'll make you a deal. From now on, whenever we find out that a carrier is releasing a Windows Mobile device with locked-down GPS, WMExperts is going to write an executive at that carrier a nice letter, on real paper, explaining why this is a bad idea. We encourage other lovers of Windows Mobile to do the same. If we all promise to do that, will you please try a little harder to stop your partners from locking down the GPS?

We've drafted up the our first letter to Verizon, here it is in PDF form. We invite you to write letters of your own (they're more effective if you write them yourself instead of just copying ours) as well. Just as importantly, we at WMExperts are publicly asking Microsoft to please work to place more pressure on carriers to stop breaking GPS for the good of the platform.

The short term gain in ARPU that carriers get by forcing users into branded versions of TeleNav is causing long term losses for Windows Mobile as a platform. It should be stopped. Now.

Hugs and Kisses, XOXO, and Happy Thanksgiving,

the WMExperts Team:

Dieter Bohn, Brian Hart, HobbesIsReal, Malatesta, George Ponder, Nick Gebhardt, Phil Nickinson, and Tim Ferrill

39 Comments
  • Really well written article Dieter.
    We at Sprite Software definitely support this cause and will do we can to help.
    Adam
    spritesoftware.com
  • What on earth is the 'Saga' on your letter to Verizon? Is that another name for the Touch Pro?
  • Well said. Make sure to add the following Verizon Models to your letter.
    XV6800
    XV6900
    Samsung Omnia
    Blackberry Storm
  • What on earth is the 'Saga' on your letter to Verizon? Is that another name for the Touch Pro?
    samsung i770
    just came out.wmexperts Saga forum
  • What on earth is the 'Saga' on your letter to Verizon? Is that another name for the Touch Pro?
    So we originally wrote the letter together when the Saga came out, then decided to wait a bit before publishing. Now that the Touch Pro is out, we decided to switch it to that, which meant I needed to change the letter.
    I missed two Sagas. :)
    Thanks for the catch, time for me to head out to the mailbox and rip the original letter up and re-send!
  • Count me guys in. However, since I am no longer a Verizon customer, I'll wait for you to release a document for AT&T, then I'll be more than happy to help and write a letter to the CEO and whoever is needed to get our gadget-freedom back!
  • Fortunately for me AT&T is a carrier that just requires you to fiddle with the settings to get the GPS chip to work with 3rd party apps.
    One argument for unlocking GPS you neglected is that users do more with GPS than just navigation. I use my GPS with an app called Intelligolf to give me accurate yardages on the golf course. Another use would be with Navio for geochaching (sp). I'm sure there are many other non-navigation apps that benefit from an unlocked GPS.
  • in the letter, didn't you mean to say "both business AND consumer users" isntead of "both business consumer users"?
  • Sprint's Touch Diamond and Touch Pro have unlocked GPSs and I'm hoping that this will become a Sprint habit. If an unlocked GPS is that important, jump to the carrier(s) who has (have) phone(s) with unlocked GPSs.
    Vote with your wallets.
  • As a software developer I am for this 100%. We make commercial software for Windows Mobile devices that use GPS. It isn?t acceptable for us to ask our customers to install a custom ROM on their devices just so they can use GPS. A custom ROM won?t be supported if they had to take the phone in for service. This is a case where Microsoft needs to use their power and force manufactures and carriers to stop screwing with the base functionality of the device. If it has GPS it should have GPS for everyone.
    We developer for Windows Mobile because it is easy to develop for and with .NET CF it allows us to reuse code and use great tools like the GPS.NET from GEO Frameworks.
  • Since when did Verizon start using Telenav? I thought they always used a rebrand of Networks in Motion's AtlasBook?
    "VZ Navigator, which is actually a re-branded version of Networks In Motion's (NIM) AtlasBook, lets you choose the fastest, shortest, or simplest route." from a PR bit they spit out a while ago.
    This also appears on a review of VZ Navigator here: http://www.gpsmagazine.com/2008/08/verizon_vz_navigator_review.php?page=5
    Additionally, I talked to one of the fine folks at Telenav and they stated that their product was not in use for the default nav app on Verizon's devices, but could be used if with them if you purchased an external GPS unit (do to the fact that Verizon does lock their devices GPS). Their Verizon compatible devices page, http://www.telenav.com/products/tn/devices/verizon.html, would also confirm this, as the BlackBerry's all have internal GPS units, but are stated to required external modules to work with the Telenav service.
    As such, I think you might be mistaken. AT&T and Sprint certainly use Telenav, but it was my understanding that Verizon doesn't. I think Mr. McAdam might find that especially funny...
  • sad day when i realized my gps was locked down . google maps was like "Ware you at" "Dont trip, ill just estimate it"
  • This isn't really a "Windows Mobile" problem, but a US carrier problem I guess... where US carriers removes and changes functionality on the devices they brand.
  • I left Verizon because of this. I talked to everuone they'd let .e spak to an told thm the reason tha I wa leaving was because of the loked down gps (and the feeli g of beimg nickeled and dimed and STILL not being able to use the gps).
    I left and went to Sprint (and even paid the ETF). say what you will about spint but they are pretty darn good to me. great service (with the ability to freely roam to Verizon if the coverage even gets spotty) and great prices. I have 2 treo 800w with unlimited data, sms, navigation, 1500 min (double what I had on Verizon), nfl, and sprint tv -- all for less than what I was paying on Verizon with 1 data phone and 1 regular phone.
    great price, great phone choices (not locked down), gps availability to my apps, good service, great data coverage - what's not to like about sprint?
    I just couldn't believe how much Verizon was charging me - under to guise of good service. I really don't notice the service difference.
  • I have GPS on my HTC S620 (with a bluetooth gps receiver) and it works fine. I use Garmin's software (which I had to mess with a little to get it to work) but by far it is the best GPS software I have seen available on a mobile phone. It is basically a carbon copy of an actual dedicated GPS system that Garmin makes except it can be on your windows mobile phone.
    My brother in law had no idea windows phones could have GPS (until recently) because no carrier ever really had a GPS phone advertised. But he is stuck paying like $10 a month for VZ navigator and internet which charges an arm and a leg while I get my GPS for free.
    The best thing about windows mobile is the fact that my iphone friends will talk down on my phone and then a week later I have the new operating software (6.1) with all the features I need + third party apps that just kill the iphone as far as being useful (not necessarily looking cool).
    David,Cellular Accessories
  • Could you please post either where you got the mailing address to this executive or better yet, list the mailing addresses for each of the major carriers?
    Thank you,
    Sean
  • Why don't you start an online petition and get
    XDA ,PPCGEEKS etc. involved. You should get
    alot of users to sign and send to Microsoft.
  • How do you know if your phone's GPS is being blocked?
  • The thing the mobile carriers are doing with GPS is the exact same thing they are doing with instant messaging yet no one is complaining about that. Windows Live Mobile has a great free IM client but the mobile carriers prevent Microsoft for including it. I already pay $30 per month extra for unlimited data. I'm darn sure not going to pay an extra $20 on top of that for unlimited instant messaging.
  • Well said. Make sure to add the following Verizon Models to your letter.
    XV6800
    XV6900
    Samsung Omnia
    Blackberry Storm
    According to user feedback, GPS on the Storm is unlocked.
  • Might consider cross-posting on Consumerist.com since they're big into reader-activism for such things, and they have a section on cell phone issues with filters for each carrier. I'm a 10yr Sprint customer and have always snickered from the sidelines when there's discussion about feature lockdowns by our evil-CDMA-cousin, VZN Wireless. If they ever take over Sprint - my worst fear - then I'd go GSM before going VZN. A little off topic, but just so we're clear.
  • It is truly sad that Verizon crippled the GPS on their three new Windows Mobile phones - the Touch Pro, the Saga i770, and the Omnia i910. Hopefully the good people out there on the different forums will overcome these obstacles on these great phones soon. We should not have to go through these types of hoops to get these types of features just because we are faithful to our carriers.
  • How would a person know if the GPS is blocked on ones phone and if it is blocked how do you go about unblocking it?
  • I just purchased Verizon's Omnia sch-i910 and was surprised to gind the GPS locked. I plan to submit the letter to Verizon. In the meantime....can anyone suggest a hack...such as Port Splitter, etc... as a temporary workaround?
  • I just sent Verizon a customer feedback email regarding disabling the GPS as well as the phone pad menus.
    I doubt it will do any good, but at least they'll know that a long time customer (since they were airtouch) is dissatisfied.
  • With Windows Mobile Professional 6.1, how do I unlock the GPS for use with Google Maps? I'm using an unlocked HTC Touch HD on AT&T... cant seem to find any articles online about how to do this. Some people report simply hard-setting Google Maps to use COM4?
  • looks like verizon might be relenting.
    2 people at modaco report offical email replies that they plan to unlock gps in Q1!!!http://www.modaco.com/index.php?s=&showtopic=276371&view=findpost&p=946326I sent some e-mails to Verizon and here is what i got today from an executive at Verizon. Notice the Last line of the e-mail. Also note that a civil suit starts in January of 2009. They know they cannot lock it down legally. Most of the E-mail is BS.
    Verizon Wireless, like all carriers, orders devices to meet certain specifications inclusive of features. Each of these specifications is tested to determine if it meets our performance goals. There are instances when the phone will pass our extensive testing process but a specific feature may not meet the standard. We will often choose to introduce the phone without that feature but ask that the manufacturer come back to us with revised software that has to be tested to make sure the service works the same across our entire wireless footprint --from Maine to Hawaii. In the case of open standalone GPS, we are partnering with the Windows Mobile device manufacturers to provide a software upgrade that will add this capability to the existing assisted GPS capability. This is a complex development project to provide open standalone GPS while maintaining the assisted GPS capability with the level of performance and security that our customers expect. The recently introduced Windows Mobile devices including the Omnia, Saga, and Touch Pro are targeted to add open standalone GPS in the 1st half of 2009.
  • sorry- first half 2009
  • I can confirm this is the new party line.
    I send an email at 4:17
    got a read recept at 4:24
    30 seconds later got this boilerplate (must be a template as the repply was so fast...)Verizon Wireless, like all carriers, orders devices to meet certain specifications inclusive of features. Each of these specs is tested to determine if it meets our performance goals. There are instances when the phone will pass our extensive testing process but a specific feature may not meet the standard. We will often choose to introduce the phone without that feature but ask that the manufacturer come back to us with revised software that has to be tested to make sure the service works the same across our entire wireless footprint --from Maine to Hawaii. In the case of open standalone GPS, we are partnering with the Windows Mobile device manufacturers to provide a software upgrade that will add this capability to the existing assisted GPS capability. This is a complex development project to provide open standalone GPS while maintaining the assisted GPS capability with the level of performance and security that our customers expect. The recently introduced Windows Mobile devices including Omnia, Saga, and Touch Pro are targeted to add open standalone GPS in the 1st half of 2009.
    Steve Schwed
    Verizon Wireless
    HQ Executive Relations Supervisor
  • I left Verizon because of this. I talked to everuone they'd let .e spak to an told thm the reason tha I wa leaving was because of the loked down gps (and the feeli g of beimg nickeled and dimed and STILL not being able to use the gps).
    I left and went to Sprint (and even paid the ETF). say what you will about spint but they are pretty darn good to me. great service (with the ability to freely roam to Verizon if the coverage even gets spotty) and great prices. I have 2 treo 800w with unlimited data, sms, navigation, 1500 min (double what I had on Verizon), nfl, and sprint tv -- all for less than what I was paying on Verizon with 1 data phone and 1 regular phone.
    great price, great phone choices (not locked down), gps availability to my apps, good service, great data coverage - what's not to like about sprint?
    I just couldn't believe how much Verizon was charging me - under to guise of good service. I really don't notice the service difference.
    +1
    Left VZW, and haven't looked back.
    It was so nice throwing Garmin on my Pro, with no objections/issues/problems/hacks on a stock ROM.
    Being on SERO just makes the whole deal that much sweeter...
  • Where did the PDF go?
  • Here is the reply that I received on1/10/2009. No date commitment at all. Verizon Wireless is committed to providing the very latest in products and services. Verizon Wireless does not provide support for the Maps application or 3rd party software that would be required to make full use of the device GPS capabilities. As a result, the GPS functionality has not been enabled so that we are able to provide a standardized level of functionality and support for our advanced devices. We are unable to state if or when additional GPS functionality will be enabled. We understand and apologize for any frustration regarding this but we are only able to provide information regarding products or services that we are currently offering. We are unable to disclose any unconfirmed information because it would be subject to change and could raise expectations that may not be met.
  • Yeah I'm a bit bent out of shape from being locked out of my Samsung Omnia's GPS. I hate ATT~GSM service worst ever in my area with no 3g, then cycled though sprint in a few months as there phones are horried. Now on to Verizon who is in the game with there fancy phones. I'm really bummed out that the Ominia was not left alone as it clearly was intended for GPS service & most likely 3rd party aplications, how could that not be a no brianer?
    As little as I would use GPS it would be nice as it was intened to be free. There is no way I'm even doing a free trial of VZw Navigator...why bother when GPS was to be free in the first place. THANKS FOR SCREWING ME OVER VZW...ALSO as a customer "La De Freaking Da" that you are the largest company...just means more of a cluster FK.
  • I am on my third contract with VZW. Just got the Samsung Saga and love it. I too was horrified to find the GPS locked down. My other two phones on previous contracts didn't have GPS built in so didn't worry about it. I am seriously thinking about paying the man the ETF and moving from VZW for this. Not that I use gps that much but it's just the idea. GiG
  • Any word on if they've released an update yet. I got the Samsung Omnia a little over a month ago and would love to be able to use Google Maps. Thanks
  • gracias
  • I left Verizon two years ago becasue of the locked GPS on my BB 8200. Had to drag the BBB into it to get my fees back. It was a company phone and I had some great letters, got several calls as it went up the food chain, got my fees back. But in the end, they have made a marketing choice and two years later, no change. New compnay in a month, they do not support BB and use VZ as their standard. Here I go again. I will have the SAGA, so like all of you, looking for a work around for several applications. GolfTrax which I use frequently will be missed the most. Their BS story about security does not stand up. They want the navigator fees. You may want to inlcude one more point, it is against the law to use a cell phone when driving, so how can we use Navigator as advertised anyway? That is what Tom Tom is for.
  • This isn't really a Windows phone problem, but a US carrier problem I guess... where US carriers removes and changes functionality on the devices they brand.
    digital frame
  • Hopefully all the providers of free GPS services will cause them to lose enough market to make a change.