Will 2010 Finally Be the Year of Location?

For most of the first decade of the new century, we all talked about the emergence of location-based services. These services, leveraging GPS chips, were going to revolutionize the world. I remember hearing numerous pitches that envisioned Starbucks offering coupons when you walked by the store. But the future, it seemed, was taking its own sweet time, with the LBS dream constantly being deferred. Fast-forward to today — thanks to new services such as Geodelic, Where and FourSquare, we’re beginning to see that mythical future become an actuality. (Related: our posts on Geodelic, Where)

If 2009 was the year when “geo” became a buzzword and gathered momentum, then 2010 is going to be the year when location-based functionality is going to become commonplace — from mobile apps to consumer devices, even to web services are all going to be geo-enabled. Like me, one man who has been patiently waiting for the future to arrive is Ted Morgan, chief executive of Skyhook Wireless, a Boston-based company that provides location-based service as an infrastructure. His company keeps close tabs on the location ecosystem. (Related: “The Dawning Age of Social Navigation“)

Last week when we were chatting about the industry, Morgan pointed out that he was “surprised how many people were talking about location.” That’s a polite way to say that location finally got buzzy. Or maybe that’s how it seems to me, given that I have been writing about location for nearly a decade. Morgan pointed out that slowly and surely, location has “become part of the mobile nervous system.” (Related: “State of Location Apps“)

Agreed! I think that’s why I’m confounded by some of the offerings of startups that have cropped up. Ask any of the mobile industry insiders and they all say that enhanced location and location-related APIs will become core offerings of major platforms — be it iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or the web. Twitter’s decision to buy Mixer Labs, parent company of GeoAPI, is one such example. (Related: “Who Will Foster the Great Location API?)

Today we “check in” to places, but soon it will become part of the platform, and when that happens we’ll shift focus to applications and services that build upon the concept of checking in. Imagine using the Flixster app in a movie theater, which automatically checks you in when you watch “Avatar” at the IMAX Theater in San Francisco and then offers a 140-character review. Or an UrbanSpoon app that automatically checks you in at the greasy spoon of your choice.

As Morgan explained — we’re going through a phase in the mobile ecosystem where folks are getting excited about location-specific applications. Eventually, all apps will have location-based functionality built in. For now, it seems all the industry is abuzz about apps such as RedLaser, Foursquare and SCVNGR. Investors are happily investing millions of dollars into location-based services such as Gowalla, Outside.in and Hot Potato. (Related: “Why I Love Foursquare” and “Hot Potato Turns Events Into Social Streams“)

Morgan, who in the past has been pretty prescient about location-based services, believes 2010 will see the emergence of two major trends that are going to gain traction in years to come:

  • Location-based ads will become mainstream as advertising and the mobile web become location-aware.
  • Brands will start to use location-based apps to drive sales and marketing efforts.

These two topics were hotly discussed at our Mobilize 09 conference in September. We’ll be keeping you posted about location-related developments as the year unfolds. Both Liz and I are ramping up our coverage of location and mobile apps. If you want to chat with us, drop either one of us an email: om + tips at gigaom dot com or liz + tips at gigaom dot com.

Paris Aerial View: Photo Courtesy of Naserversiontwo via Flickr.

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