Is 2010 the year of location-based services?

Is 2010 the year of location-based services?

Dr Giles Nelson, director of strategy at Progress Software, says 2010 is the year location-based services finally become mainstream.

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.

Social networking is also going to change. Start-ups Gowalla and Foursquare have both launched consumer-oriented location-based social networking applications. Rather than use conventional mapping information, they rely upon their user community to create "locations" -- a bar or restaurant for example -- where users can then check-in at and broadcast their location to other users. It is widely anticipated that Facebook in 2010 will start supporting location directly (Facebook's privacy policy has been already changed to allow this). Users will then be able to browse their network by their current location, or be alerted, perhaps, when a friend is within 1km of them.

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.

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Tags smartphones2010 predictionslocation based services

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