Harnessing the full potential of mobile location-based services is a mirage that bewitched developers and handset manufacturers during the last decade. The technology was proclaimed to have come of age, only to vanish when companies reached out to monetise it.
But despite several false dawns over the last decade, Google, Facebook and the other juggernauts of the mobile world are still hot on its heels. With new applications coming to market and more users willing to share their whereabouts via handsets, the true realisation of location-based services is at last on the horizon.
I have seen attitudes to location-based services develop rapidly over the last few years. Location is now a key component not just in navigation apps but also in social offerings such as Foursquare, Google Buzz and even Twitter.
This burgeoning technology has a long way to go, with issues around privacy and other social concerns still to be addressed, but it has limitless potential. Today, users can choose to share their location with a select group of individuals in return for a perceived benefit.
Foursquare, for instance, acts as a forum for early adopters to share where they are drinking coffee or what their favourite bookstore is—a pretty slim value proposition for most of us. However, as mobile social networks grow in popularity, users will be able to instantly form new communities based on this knowledge of location.
The growth in mobile location applications amongst businesses is being spearheaded by those who can gain value from tracking the locations of their staff and/or colleagues. For example, I’m developing a tracking application for Romex (an employee management and protection service) that enables any employee to run an application on their phone that tells other people where they are at any given time.
This kind of application has enormous value for an employer. Companies managing fleets of delivery personnel or mobile workers need to have up-to-the-minute information about their location. The information supplied by the platform we have developed enables Romex to offer their customers solutions that make staff more efficient.
As mobile phones become more sophisticated, including improved battery life that enables always-on GPS, location technologies will become more robust and ubiquitous. Indeed, I have been working on a new software technology that reduces GPS’s use of battery on existing phones, allowing location to be ‘always on’. People will start to use location-based services that rely on sharing their location information with everyone.
At this point, brands looking to target consumers in a very specific way and giants like Google could be the first to reap rewards. Marketers can use location to create campaigns aimed at more specific age, gender, income, and lifestyle segments. Google indexes nearly all online content, products, businesses and even locations via Google Maps—though the main concern is how they use the data they collect.
We can only speculate as to how location technologies will be used further down the line. As long as consumers are happy for trusted sources to know their location, the captured data can be of huge benefit to the industry. The potential of location technology is enormous: it could be applied to anything from playing 3D real-world games where other players on the same street are involved in your game, to arranging commercial business meetings with those in the same area.
In the shorter term, it can be used to give a context to all the user does—am I at home, at work, at a club, in the shops, etc. Once user demand picks up enough momentum to snowball mass adoption, location-based services will reach true ubiquity, with most consumers taking them for granted as part of their everyday lives.
In the long-term, mobile location-based services will become a key tool to not simply tell consumers where they are but to help them get to where they want to be—not just through navigation, but by networking them with valuable people, products and services that can have a significant impact on their lives.
Indeed, the potential of this technology is so powerful that one day all applications will make use of location in one way or another. The fast-paced development we will see in this area over the next decade spells massive opportunity for innovation and revenue generation amongst the mobile software industry. We just need to decide where we want to go with it.