iPhone + GPS = the Twin-Peaked Hype Curve?


Ok, maybe it’s time for Gartner to introduce a new type of hype curve: one with two peaks – to describe what seems to happen right now with location based services with the release of the GPS iPhone. (Or maybe they have that curve already, who knows. I’d call it ‘correlated hype cycle’ or something.)

Anyways: see this post by Om Malik which, to me, feels very much like the second coming of the LBS hype. I do agree to a large extent with what is said there. Yes, the rules have changed (as I noted in an earlier post): The technology is becoming cheap and prevalent. The potential audience is now global – via the World Wide Web – and no longer restricted to the customer base of a single carrier.

Still: as usual. I’m sceptical. Yes, the technology is in place. And yes, the development platforms are open to everyone now – which means we will see innovation and creativity in a way we haven’t seen during the first decade of LBS. But there’s one thing that not even the iPhone will change: applications have to (1) fulfill a true need and/or (2) offer instant gratification in order to succeed. And that’s actually hard to achieve for LBS.

Just a few thoughts: In general, most people are way less mobile than we LBS enthusiasts always like to think. (See a NYT article on the same study here.) In other words: the “I’m in a foreign town and can’t find my way to the nearest Starbucks” scenario might just not be that cool after all. And although I personally think that support for mobile & location would be a huge added benefit to social networking apps, not everybody out there may be as excited about Facebook, MySpace (or Xing if you’re in Europe) as we are. And finally: as compelling as the idea of location-based or “big” games may be: what good is an LBS game with 10.000 registered users worldwide when the nearest player online is ‘only’ 20 kilometers away?

Therefore – my old mantra: Yes, LBS are exciting. And I believe they will be big – just like map mashups on the Web are big and ubiquitous right now. And I believe they are a trend that’s here to stay. But let’s not fool ourselves: Just like most Web map mashups, LBS are also a niche thing. And the fact that the benefit of a global audience (and nowadays almost zero development cost) comes with the drawback of global competition doesn’t make things easier.

Many ideas that sound cool at first will fail. It will take time to identify user needs; to learn from the failures – and from the success of the few really long-running examples out there; and to figure out how applications and games need to be cleverly designed around the everyday habits and movement patterns of people to offer that instant gratification, without suffering from the critical mass problem. And if you ask me – that’s exactly what makes this topic so exciting 😉

One Response to “iPhone + GPS = the Twin-Peaked Hype Curve?”

  1. 1 LBS: is it all hype? « LBS: social, gaming, etc

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