Sunday, September 19, 2021

Location Based Services Part 4: Location Enabling All Phone Applications

February 4, 2009 by · 4 Comments 

Cool new iPhone Google Maps features!
Image by fotovertigo via Flickr

In the recent video introduction of the Palm Pre, we saw some really slick plugins to the address book to allow for friend connectivity status across social networks.. this is a big step forward away from the typical address book, which even the iPhone has, and yet, it is amazing to see how little location based services are being used across all handset platforms. I think this will be the killer paradigm shift of the next generation of mobile devices.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’m going to go through all the major apps a phone has and see what enabling them with location awareness would do. Although I’ve thought of these ideas on my own accord, I can’t deny that I’m probably influenced by many of the things I’ve read across the internetz… so, if you do see something that you’ve seen somewhere else, let me know, and I’ll try to give credit if it’s something I’ve read, otherwise assume these are my own kookie ideas. Also, I realize that some of these ideas are impossible in the current crop of devices since they may require OS permissions not typically granted to 3rd party applications.

Calendar –

We’ve seen many new types of uses for calendaring, sharing, multiple calendars, and online synchronizing. However, there is still a lot more that can be done. For example, I am usually in a situation where I have an upcoming appointment where I need to book a car to pick me up and take me to the next address. I could go to the Google Maps app, type in my current location and the location of my next appointment and then have it calculate and estimate a route. However, why not have all of this pre-integrated into calendar. As a matter of fact, why not have the calendar application suggest a transport time based upon my current location and add that to the start time of an appointment (with an appropriate prompt, of course). Imagine that.. you check your next appointment on your calendar, it says that it is 5 hours from now, but that based on your current location, you’ll need to allocate an hour for travel. If it is really smart, it may actually even look up traffic info and append that to the time, but I’d be happy with just an estimate.

In addition, what about when scheduling something between friends, or when inviting friends? Outlook allows you to invite people to meetings, but what if you could invite people based on where they are? I won’t go into this in great detail right now because I’ll go into it in other sections, but it just seems like a natural extension.

Messaging App –

We’ve started to see what can be done with location on messagins with applications like Twinkle and Tweetie. You can not only sort messages by location, but also search for public ones as well. However, no SMS/MMS app in phones today integrates this kind of functionality. Not only that, in one of my previous postings I complained about how there is no standardized way of sharing location with someone else on another mobile device via standard protocols (SMS/MMS). This is partially due to the lack of a standards on how to encapsulate location data and then send it. Apps such as Tweetie rely on external web services to provide the information for web consumption (google map with a tiny url) or via the Twitter’s location section. How would you replicate that over SMS or MMS? Even if your phone could do it, the receiving phone wouldn’t know how to parse the information.

What needs to happen is for the MMS protocol to have a location standard appended to it that allows for users to just as easily add a location’s coordinates to their message as a picture. These coordinates need to be in a form that is application agnostic, such that the receiving phone does not need a specific reader (Google Maps/Nokia Maps), just a messaging app that can parse the coordinates and launch the appropriate app or even within the messaging app. Simple stuff if you really want to do it, but not yet there in terms of handset thinking or using for the average person.

The iPhone is sort of there within their Maps app, where you can share a location and it sends a link via email. Same concept, now just make it simpler and encapsulated within any messaging app.

Address Book-

The address book is probably one of the ones that would most benefit from location awareness. I regularly want to know the proximity of a friend to his work place (is he free) or to where I am before I call. This information is handy so that I can infer his availability, but also to change how I interact with him. For example, if I know that he is near me, I am more likely to invite him to do something that if I see he is far away.

In some ways, if my friend is broadcasting his location and posting it to something like Fire Eagle, then you wouldn’t need to actively send a location like with my messaging example above. You’d just know (but perhaps you can use the messaging location for precisions and address book with just general location).

Now, before everyone gets all up in arms regarding the privacy issues with this. Please read my post in the section below on related articles about security. There is a way around this, and if you don’t want it, you don’t have to use the location feature.

In some ways, and I’ll know in greater detail once I get to play with it, the Palm Pre may deliver on this since it can pull in social network information. Presumably if you update your location on those, you’d know within the Palm Pre’s address book.

However, even other aspects of the address book could be ‘enhanced’ with location services. There is an app in the App Store that I saw that will tell you what the weather is for all your contacts based on their stated address. This allows you to perhaps make some assumptions about their availability and/or mood, but the idea is sound. What other piece of information can you determine from their location and add to your search criteria? Search friends by proximity to me.. then compose a message to all of them and send them an MMS with a embedded location of where I am (precision mode) and invite them for drinks. Then those that accept the invite I can track their progress on their way to meet me so as to know who is running late (and who is most likely to bail on the invitation). And what if you wanted to call a friend that was in a different time zone and the phone politely noted via an icon that in their location they were most likely sleeping?

Location Broadcast across all your apps –

In summary, having gone through all the major phone apps, I think that a radical change needs to happen at the OS level to accomodate pervasive location based information on the phone. Once you integrate these location services into the OS itself, the uses can be as obvious or subtle as the app merits. People can then learn to integrate how they interact with others based on the new location aware information. For example, notifications of proximity in messages needn’t be intrusive messages of their own, they could simply be a little bubble in a corner with blue representing close and red representing far away. The point is that much more needs to be done in order to fully integrate location services into our mainstream mobile experience.


Google launched Google Latitude today (as part of version Google Maps 3.0 on my Symbian handset at least), which to some extent does what I’d like to be integrated into a phone’s OS & address book. This comes close to what I want for the address book and for any phone to have integrated into the subsystem so that all apps have access to this data. Having it be contained within Google’s App environment limits its usability across all apps native or 3rd party, and there’s the pesky registration process as opposed to just using your SIM. All in all, I have to hand it to Google, this does look pretty slick.

You can learn more about Google Latitude here:

Also, check out this article from Ars Technica that talks about a platform that is trying to do just this..

Other related Chromewalker Postings:

Location Based Services Part 1: The iPhone 3G experience

Location Based Services Part 2: Privacy Concerns & Other Hurdles to Adoption

Location Based Services Part 3: Chromewalker’s Four Cardinal Points of Location

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