MSN Direct is now available in 134 markets across North America. With this new version of MSN Direct consumers will have access to real-time speed data in 94 metropolitan areas across North America (31 markets previously covered) and 96 markets with road incidents. MSN Direct has also improved the speed of download of the traffic data, now allowing local traffic data to be received within 30 seconds. NAVTEQ traffic is the provider of the data.
In addition to the existing services: weather, gas prices, news, stocks, local events, and web favorites (addresses sent from the web to the GPS), MSN Direct is adding flight status for North American airports, with data provided by Conducive Technology Corp. The weather data has also been improved by the addition of a Doppler map detailing precipitation type (rain/mix/snow) and intensity. This data is provided by Foreca.
While the flight status service and weather maps are only available to new PNDs bought in 2009, the improved traffic service will be offered to all existing MSN Direct subscribers via a software update.
At the same time Microsoft is trying to improve the take rate and the renewal of its MSN Direct subscription. The company has partnered with retailer Best Buy to offer its subscription on the shelves through scratch cards. This program has started a few weeks ago in 1,000 stores across the U.S. where consumers can buy scratch cards for $49.95 (one year) or $129.95 (lifetime service).
As a whole this enhanced offering represents a serious competition to two-way connected PNDs. Looking at the current connected PND offering from Best Buy (Insignia), TomTom and TeleNav the only missing service is real-time local search of POIs on Google or yellow pages directories. We will see if consumers think this feature makes a real difference or not.