Groupon, Foursquare, Microsoft, Ford and BMW kick the tires of geo-focused applications.
What’s real and what’s hype in mobile location services?
Groupon, Foursquare, Microsoft, Ford and BMW kick the tyres of geo-focused applications
There’s a lot of excitement around location-based mobile apps, but a lot of hot air too. A panel of experts aimed to sift the two at the Nokia World conference, with representatives from Groupon, Foursquare, Microsoft’s Bing division, Ford and BMW.
Doug VanDagens, global director of connected services solutions at Ford, talked about his company’s idea of “the vehicle as a platform… and through that platform being able to hook up to agnostic services”.
Groupon’s vice president of business development and mobile Michael Shim was also on the panel. “I’d say location is a pretty key element of the future of the company,” he said. “Certainly when we started out three years ago, we didn’t need to have very well developed mobile services to support what was then a fairly basic daily deals service.”
Shim said that location as a context has given Groupon the ability to do “a whole bunch of things that we didn’t think possible with our core service”. The company thinks of itself as much as a “local discovery platform” as just a deals service, as a result.
Foursquare’s vice president of mobile and international, Holger Luedorf, drew a distinction between his company and Groupon, saying that for Foursquare, “the commerce is almost the by-product”.
Instead, he talked about Foursquare’s traditional aim of sparking serendipitous meetings with friends who happen to be near one another, while also providing useful recommendations of places to go. The commerce element comes when Foursquare’s merchant partners create special deals for people who check in using the app.
So what’s next? Erik Jorgensen, senior vice president of Bing Mobile and Places at Microsoft, claimed that search is going to “fundamentally change” in the next year. “Geocoding and the physical universe is critical,” he said.
“When you look at Windows Phone, today we have a service called OpenScout which gives you that idea of what to see and do around you. How that gets smarter and smarter and more pro-active really is the future.”
The panel were asked about likely forces of disruption over the next year for the location industry. Shim said that the continued evolution of mobile payments technology and services will be crucial, especially when they tie into location-based apps. “Those things can really come together and have an explosively disruptive effect.”
Jorgensen talked about “concierge advertising – how users get brought to services that are interesting to them”, and had some surprisingly harsh words for his own company’s app store, as well as rivals.
“Today if you look at the app stores on Windows Phone or Apple or Android, it’s a place you have to go to sift through all the crap that’s there to find an app, and you may not even know what it’s called,” he said. “The point where an app is installed at the point a user wants to use them, that’s going to be a big point.”
Luedorf said he’d like to see persistent location sensors on devices that don’t drain their batteries. Mobile operators have told Foursquare that they could help in this regard with their own location APIs, but Luedorf was unimpressed. “For a company of 80 people, it’s almost impossible to implement these on a carrier-by-carrier basis,” he said.
He was also asked about how soon the new Foursquare Radar feature will be available on devices other than the iPhone. It pings people when they are near a friend or a location that’s on a Foursquare list that they subscribe to.
Luedorf said that push notifications are a key factor, but came back to the idea of battery life as a barrier in Windows Phone’s case particularly.
“We are working very closely with Nokia and the Microsoft team on further developments. As soon as we realise that Radar will work on the Windows Phone with a reasonable battery life, we will enable it… If it wouldn’t drain it in less than five hours, we would consider it.”
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