In my opinion, one of the most interesting technology trends of 2010 promises to be location based services. These can be described as services that utilise a user or object's physical location to deliver relevant information. One example is the tracking of trucks or ships moving freight so customers can be informed more accurately about arrival times. Another is the delivery of a discount voucher to a mobile phone user as they walk past a store which stocks a product of interest.
Location based services are not a new idea. In fact, 10 years ago there was a lot of hype around them, fuelled by the froth in the mobile telco market (remember the billions that were bid for UK 3G licenses?). I have to confess a very personal interest in them too, as they featured heavily in my PhD thesis, completed in 1998.
In 2010 they're finally going to become mainstream. Why?
It's all down to the rise of the smartphone. And specifically, the fact that most smartphones now have in-built GPS. Combined with always-on wireless connectivity, it means that applications running on these phones can report a user's current location on a regular basis.
As GPS-equipped smartphone use has taken off, so the applications that use the location information have also begun to. Mapping is perhaps the most obvious -- dynamically update a map, centred on the user's current location, as the user moves around. Very useful when you're trying to find the nearest outlet of your favourite coffee purveyor in an unfamiliar area.
Photographs taken on smartphones can have latitude and longitude information encoded with them. So, photographs can be then combined with mapping information -- perhaps someone has a good meal at a restaurant and wants to remember where the restaurant is. The addition of location information gives some extra context to the photograph making the event more memorable.
Twitter, the micro-blogging service, is now beginning to support location information. Updates to Twitter are tagged with the phone's location. Shortly, users will be able to browse tweets by location or identify when people they follow are near them. With all these examples, it's important to recognise that the use of location is more than the simple adding of a feature. Location information will significantly change the way in which applications that support it are used.