MobileNews

Location apps

Mobile-based location apps are about to get big. Really big. Charles Weir, managing director of mobile software developer Penrillian, explains why the future’s bright

Harnessing the full potential of mobile location apps bewitched developers and handset manufacturers during the last decade. Too often, the technology was proclaimed to have come of age, only to vanish when companies reached out to monetise it. But despite the false dawns, Google, Facebook and the other juggernauts of the mobile world are still hot on its heels. With new applications coming out and more users willing to share their whereabouts via handsets, the true realisation of location-based services is at last on the horizon.

We’ve seen attitudes to location-based services develop rapidly over the last few years. Location is now a key component in social offerings such as Foursquare, Google Buzz and 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.

Early adopters

Today, users can choose to share their location with a select group of individuals in return for aperceived benefit. Foursquare, for instance, acts as a forum for early adopters to share where they’re drinking coffee or what their favourite bookshop is – a pretty slim-value proposition for most of us. But as mobile social networks grow in popularity, users will be able to form new communities instantly, based on location knowledge.

The growth in mobile location apps among businesses is being spearheaded by those who can gain value from tracking the locations of their staff or colleagues. We’re developing a tracking application for Romex (an employee management and protection service) that enables any employee to run an app on their phone that tells other people where they are. This kind of application has enormous value for an employer. Companies managing fleets of delivery personnel or mobile workers need up-to-the-minute info about their location. Details supplied by the platform we’ve developed enable Romex to offer customers solutions that make staff more efficient.

As phones become more sophisticated, with improved battery life that enables always-on GPS, location technologies will become more robust and ubiquitous. Indeed, at Penrillian, we’ve been working on new software technology that reduces GPS’s battery use on existing phones. People will start to use location-based services that rely on sharing their location information with everyone.

At this point, brands are looking to target consumers in a very specific way and giants such as 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 it uses the data it collects.

The future

We can only speculate as to how location technology 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 the technology is enormous: it could be applied to anything from playing 3D real-world games where players on the same street are involved in your game, to arranging business meetings with those in the same area. In the shorter term, it can give a context to all the user does – am I at home, at work, or at a club? 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.

In the long term, mobile location apps will become a key tool to help consumers get to where they want to be – not just through navigation, but by networking them with valuable people, products and services. The rapid development we’ll see in this area over the next decade spells massive opportunity for innovation and revenue generation in the mobile software industry. We just need to decide where we want to go with it.

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