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Location is a Tool NOT Application

I’ve always believed the concept of location is important to an application, but it does not really define an application. Continuing that line of thought, I think many companies who join the ‘LBS is a killer Application’ idealogy have it completely wrong.

Location is NOT going to be successful as an Application. It is going to be super successful as a tool. Let me justify my stand.

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  • First, location is inherently tied to something ‘moving’. If thing that reports location does not move for a long time, it gets stale and therefore less interesting. Don’t confuse this statement by thinking that I mean you posting a location ‘@Home’ for 24 h rs is a bad idea. Here, your home is not the ‘thing’. You are the ‘thing’. And you move – and happen to be at home. 
  • As a corollary to the above, therefore, I think ‘Location’ as a concept is most useful on something that stays with you, wherever you are, which really happens to be your mobile phone 
  • On a mobile phone, you typically use 1 (or at most 2) email applications, one maps application, one chat application, one TODO and one micro-blog/blog application. Really. Think about it.  The only exception here may be social networking mobile apps – if you are an SNS junkie you may have multiple, but again, I seriously doubt how many of us use all of them equally (I bet in the US, facebook is  your most prolific app, while in Latin America, it may be Orkut, or Mixi in Japan)
  • Now what do you do with location ? Yes, cool, if I can see my friend on a Map, I may want to drive to him. Will you download and use frequently a new app that offers a ‘drive to friend’ capability on new map application? I would not. I want to use it as a feature in my commonly used map app.
  • Now what do you do with location ? Yes, cool, if I can see his location in my IM window, I may want to send him an IM that is location-ized (that is, the IM reaches him only when he is at a particular location). Will you download and use frequently a new app that offers a ‘contextual IM’ capability on a new IM application? I would not. I want to use it as a feature in my commonly used IM app.
  • Now what do you do with location ? Yes, cool, if I can see his location in my Facebook Mobile app, I may want to send him an wall post asking him if he can pick up concert tickets for me 1 mile from where he is. Will you download and use frequently a new app that offers a ‘location enabled facebook wall post capability’? I would not. I want to use it as a feature in my commonly used SNS app.
  • Now what do you do with location ? Yes, cool, if my TODO app can see my location, it may want to send me a TODO reminder based on my proximity to the pending TODO location. Will you download and use frequently a new app that offers a ‘location enabled TODO tool’? I would not. I want to use it as a feature in my commonly used TODO app

I could go on, but you get the picture. To me, location is a tool. Location is not a strong enough reason for someone to change his look and feel experience, or change the interface he likes to use. Further, location does not define an application. Location is AN ATTRIBUTE to an application. 

Therefore, I think Google gets it. Latitude, for example, is not another app. It is just an upgrade to Google Maps, which ties in location to an Application that is really about ‘locate what you want’. It ties in location to ‘drive to’, ‘find friends’ etc. all as features of an existing, and very commonly used application.  Om has an interesting post on it. Read the comments, they are also interesting.

Google has a great advantage. Its mobile apps are very common and massmarket. A huge many of us use Gmail and Google Maps. Between Maps and Mail/IM, you have cornered at least 50% of what people use LBS for.

The biggest challenge to LBS app providers is to convince users to download and frequently use your application. Download is easy. Make it free. But frequently use is hard and that is where the money is (Advertising or otherwise).

What we really now need is some company to open up a ubiqutous LBS SDK that can be a tool for as many apps. Fire-eagle is one attempt. There are others. I hope some of them succeed. Who succeeds would all depend on :

a) How much clout do you have to push-market it ?

b) Does it allow me to integrate that information with applications I am already used to ?

You have both and you win. Does Google have potential for both? For me, yes. Will Google release a platform SDK for location. I am pretty darn sure they will.

 
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