Location Awareness — The Next Big Thing

March 27th, 2006

Japanese cell phone company KDDI is offering a new GPS-enabled 3D navigational tool to their 17 million subscribers (see article and picture). Their system helps consumers navigate city streets and even within buildings, using an innovative 3D map and audio directions. This system is similar to (but possibly more advanced than) the in-car navigation systems we are familiar with, such as Hertz "Neverlost" or the Magellan products (note: I have a Magellan aftermarket nav system in my car — it’s one of the most useful things I ever bought!).

GPS-enabled mobile devices and the location-aware services they enable are definitely a "Next Big Thing" contender.  They have many compelling potential uses in the near-term and mid-term future. Below are some of my wild speculations on how this technology could be used:

  • Personal navigation. Your device can help you find your way when walking, driving, or even on the water or in the wilderness.
  • Location-aware advertising. Your device can get special offers from stores near you, as you walk or drive around, according to your permissions, preferences and profile of course.
  • Location-aware storage, search and retrieval. Your device remembers where you were when you wrote a note, took a photo, or sent a message.You can later search for your stuff based on where you were — for example, "photos I took in Brazil" or "Notes I made at PC Forum in 2006" (for the best example of this, see the amazing product, EverNote — the next version of which I got to preview recently, it is mind-blowingly cool!).
  • Location-aware photo-enhancement. When you take a photograph it is not only tagged with time and location where it was taken, but the content of the photo can be automatically tagged based on the orientation of the camera. For example, if you take a photo of the Empire State Building, your camera will someday be able to tag the photo as being about the Empire State Building, and can even detect and tag the shape of the building itself in the photo.
  • Location-aware social networking. Your device can track people nearby who are your friends, family, colleagues, or who match your interests and want to meet you (for example: dating). This can be useful to find people at a crowded event, or to hook up with your friends while out on the town, or to meet people at a trade show or conference.
  • Location-aware personal security. Your device can keep a transcript of your movements on a server. Parties you authorize can track you if they need to find you immediately, or in case you go missing. In addition, bulk alerts can be sent to people who happen to be in particular areas — for example, if a tornado is coming, people who happen to be in that vicinity can be warned.
  • Location-aware information services. You can get news and other local info about the place you happen to be in. If you are standing outside a restaurant you can see reviews and discussions from people who have been there before. If you are already in the restaurant you can see recommendations of what to order from people who were there before you. Information can be virtually posted to particular places or regions — you can hang a virtual post it note in your doorway so that anyone who passes through it gets the note.