How connectivity is revolutionizing everything

Location: Where is the new who

By Ryan Kim

Where you are will soon be as important as who you are. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones with embedded GPS, intelligent networks, and a handful of new startups, your location is now a key bit of data that’s fuelling a new set of services for social networks, retailers, and advertisers. Strategy Analytics estimates that location-based services will be a $10 billion market by 2016.

While mobile and web companies have been talking about leveraging location for years, the power of the GPS was first demonstrated to provide value for users in car navigation services (outside of hiking enthusiasts). Later on, Foursquare showed how location, and its “check-ins,” could be a social tool. The phone companies have also dipped a toe in with various services like helping parents track their kids.

Advertisers and brick-and-mortar retailers are still trying to figure out the best ways to help consumers pull relevant location-based information as well as push valuable deals and data to them — and not get rejected as spam or be seen as stalkers. Many are still waiting for a killer app, whether that’s local ads, or location-relevant coupons. Companies like WHERE (bought by eBay), LocalResponse, Placecast, SimpleGeo and others are helping marketers and developers leverage location to reach consumers.

Cell phones are the king of the location-based world. Google says 40 percent of its mobile searches are for local information. That’s not surprising, as it’s when you’re on the go that you really need information about new surroundings.

But the wireless infrastructure itself has begun to change, too. The industry started because GPS is embedded in every cell phone, but now companies like Skyhook are adding location services to other connected devices, and voluntary check-ins are providing a new kind of social location data. Sensors and short-range wireless, like Near Field Communication (NFC), and RFID tags, are adding even more complex location data, and augmented reality is creating an innovative visual element to all of this.

We’re still scratching the surface of location-based services, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered about how best to deal with privacy issues that arise. But location-based services will eventually stop being discrete apps and will instead work their way into almost every app and device.