LBS in the Year 2008


Now that the Mobile World Congress is over, there’s lots of talk that 2008 will be the year of location based services (see here, here or here).

I googled a little bit on that – and what did I have to see? I learned that 2007 could turn out to be the year of LBS. Or that LBS are finally poised to take off in 2006 and 2007. That 2005 will be a banner year for carrier deployments of LBS. Or that 2003 will mark a turning point for LBS as a market segment. Yes, the Web has mercilessly documented this long, sad story, starting back in 1997 (the year of LBS, by the way).

So what’s different this time? IMO a lot is different this time! And it’s not just that the amount of blog posts on the subject is so much bigger this year. This time, the technological model is changing: Following the architectural philosophy of the Internet, functionality is moving out of the network – where both location information and control over services used to be located – into the end-nodes.

Devices are becoming autonomous in terms of positioning, either trough GPS, or through local APIs to cell ID or WLAN SSID information. Packet data connectivity has already become the norm even for the most average phones. LBS have offically become a thing of the Web, with everything that involves: from the pains of cross-device compatibility, to the benefits of end-to-end developer control and an instant global audience.

Will location based services take off by the end of the year? I doubt it. Yes, I agree that GPS will be the “new camera” (and Nokia’s commitment to put GPS in every N-Series model is a definite indication that we’re going that way). But I’m afraid we can also interpret this as “everybody’s going to have one, but few people will actually use it on a regular basis”. To be honest, I believe that the average LBS will never be able to reach a mass audience. (Did I just say that out loud?) Yes, there’s going to be a handful of exceptions in the navigation and local search arena. But those are already positioned clearly and visibly on the market today. Apart from that? I don’t think there’s going to be any “big” mass market LBS in practice.

But is that necessary? Take a look at the average Web map mashup: IMO the beauty of mashups is exactly that they do not target the everyday user out there. Instead, most mashups serve a highly specialized niche audience (or what would you consider people interested in filming locations of Dr. Who or early gothic architecture in France?)

But because the cost of developing a mashup approaches zero, that still makes sense! And because the pool of potential users around the world is so large, some mashups may even be successful commercially (ya know, the long tail and all…) My humble opinion: In order for LBS to really take off, a GPS in every phone and connectivity to the Web is one part of the equation. What we will need in addition to that, is figure out a way to make LBS development as cheap, painless and as mashup-like as possible.

2 Responses to “LBS in the Year 2008”

  1. 1 United Maps
  2. 2 2008 is the year of LBS (like it was in 2007, 2006, 2005 …)

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