Mark Lowenstein recently wrote about LBS and the proliferation of GPS enabled or capable mobile devices. One of the things that I learned from the article is that we are reaching mass market penetration in terms of vehicular GPS devices. This coupled with the mobile phone environment (trending toward ubiquitous GPS capabilities) puts users in an ever localized and networked environment. Did someone say electro/metropolis?
At this time, being someone who feels like they are generally well informed in terms of applications currently available, I would have to agree with Lowenstein in his prediction that there is and perhaps will not be a large market for subscription-based LBS. I think there are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious one has to do with the proliferation of non-mobile internet access (especially in the U.S. market). Compounded with increased mobile access, the market for subscription services indeed appears slim. If you have the ability to quickly and effectively search online (mobile or otherwise) where is the current incentive on behalf of consumers to pay for a specific service or application?
Say hello to WHERE, made recently available for the G1. Previously available for a variety of devices and networks (iPhone, Blackberry, Sprint, Boost…) WHERE is a LBS that acts more or less as an aggregator. With the ability for developers to create widgets, WHERE enables users to see a variety of location based-services directly from their mobile device. For instance, when I set my location as Seattle, Washington, I am presented a menu with a myriad of categories including: weather, headlines, yelp, movies, traffic, etc. This one application has allowed me to erase two or three others I had installed on my G1 (bye bye weather channel). Lowenstein notes, …”the ‘app store world’ is quickly dividing into free and paid-for (“premium”) apps,” and “there is a lot of potential to develop premium applications and services that, while not based exclusively on location, certainly leverage that capability…” In terms of an application such as WHERE, it appears as though some users might indeed have to pay for certain widgets. As far as I can tell, currently the application is thus far free for the G1, although this may change as more services are added in the form of premium content.
In Lowenstein’s final paragraph he discusses the importance of consumer education, something I believe is often overlooked. The number of permissions I and any user grants to such creators and developers is, in some instances, overwhelming. By installing the application on my phone, I allow WHERE to access: network communication, my location, phone calls (read phone state), system tools, and services that cost me money. Lowenstein alludes to the notion that these LBS can provide a great number of services to the consumer, but also allows these developers or companies to compile amazing amounts of highly tailored specified data pertaining to a user. I read Lowenstein to insinuate, as many of us believe, that we are entering an uncharted and exciting, albeit complicated, point of convergence. The possibilities for new methods of interaction among consumers/users and, creators, developers, carriers, advertisers, and market researchers in the wake of LBS is deep. As LBS continue to spread throughout networked communities, the ways in which this data will be compiled, analyzed, and most importantly used will be paramount.