Dell Taps Skyhook for Location-Enabled Netbooks

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) announced today that starting next week, customers will be able to order versions of its Mini 10 netbook computer equipped with GPS hardware as well as hybrid GPS and Wi-Fi-based location-finding software from Boston’s Skyhook Wireless. It’s the first time Round Rock, TX-based Dell has licensed Skyhook’s software for its products, and the deal could provide a big boost for the venture-funded startup.

The Mini 10 is one of Dell’s main entries in the burgeoning category of netbooks, miniature portable computers that typically run Windows XP (rather than Vista) and have less processing power and memory than standard laptops, but cost under $500. Lionel Menchaca, Dell’s “chief blogger,” wrote in a post today that the options customers can choose for pre-installation on the Mini 10 will include the “Dell Wireless 700 location solution,” including a Broadcom GPS chip and Skyhook’s software, which can determine a device’s location based on satellite signals, the IDs of nearby Wi-Fi networks, or both.

That means the Mini 10 will be able to function much like a personal navigation device—perhaps helping netbooks to impinge on the market for standalone GPS devices sold by TomTom and other manufacturers. In fact, Menchaca said the “Wireless 700” package will include navigation software called CoPilot that offers 2D and 3D map views as well as turn-by-turn directions to drivers.

The package also includes Skyhook’s Loki software, which integrates with browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer to help users retrieve Web-based information based on their location. (Dell has already set up a “Loki dashboard” for Mini 10 users at

Ted Morgan, Skyhook’s CEO, says the Dell deal is a major one for his company—perhaps the biggest one since Apple announced in January 2008 that Skyhook’s Wi-Fi positioning system would serve as one of the location-finding technologies on the iPhone. “Dell is a pretty big name across a bunch of different categories—and is rumored to be entering some new ones,” says Morgan, perhaps referring to talk that Dell is developing an Android-based device that could be a smartphone, a media player, or an Internet device. “It’s a big win for us to have both Dell and Apple aggressively out there” promoting Skyhook’s technology, Morgan says.

It’s also strategically important for Skyhook to have a foothold in the netbook market, Morgan says. “If you look at what Dell and Acer and Asus are doing, they’re inventing a whole new category that’s huge for students and mobile professionals,” he says. “We like the idea of working with new manufacturers and new devices that are ripe targets for location-based software.”

Dell’s Menchaca said the Wireless 700 option will eventually be available for Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers, and for other Dell systems beyond the Mini 10.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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