At SXSW, Location Awareness Is The New Black

The annual SXSW Festival is on, and this year I am surprised by the number of location-aware mobile services being launched in Austin, Texas, many of them for Apple’s iPhone.

  • SocialBomb launched its Paparazzi game, which allows you to click and share photos of your friends and having them mapped to location. I love this little game. Too bad I have moved off the iPhone platform.
  • Dennis Crowley, creator of Dodgeball is back for an encore with Foursquare, which turns nightlife into a game (at least for those who live in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Austin). The New York Times has a review of the service.
  • Pelago launched Whrrl 2.0, which allows you to share your day and life based on location, using photos and text, to a private network of friends.
  • Lastly, check out Gowalla, a location-based travel game by Alamofire.

Most of these apps are leveraging the built-in GPS features of the iPhone and its user interface to create a new kind of user experience. (Related Post: The Commoditization of GPS & the Golden Age of Location-based Services)

Using the iPhone to Mine for Gold & Sense

Our growing ability to use the Internet as a giant database, apply that information in a creative way to build interesting mash-up applications, and then apply them to markets — stock, real estate or fantasy — is an area that holds a lot of fascination for me. But while a few efforts have produced rudimentary, data-based mashups that are good, so far none have been truly game-changing.

We’ve already showcased two startups — Skygrid and Placebase — that have impressed us with their ability to offer pointers that can be translated into actions on the real-world stock and real estate markets. Trulia and Zillow fall in that category as well, though I think they’re both eons away from where they should be. And today we’re adding New York-based Sense Networks to the interesting and growing list of intelligent mashup companies.

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Will Context Aware Be Enough for Nokia?

Nokia has placed some big bets on location-based technologies, including buying a handful of companies and making a $8.1 billion bid for Navteq. The company’s vision of the future revolves around making wireless Internet more context aware. In particular, Nokia is betting on applications that, when married to location-based services, are going to keep demand for its S60-based phones growing, a point that it’s likely to trumpet at the S60 Summit in Barcelona later this month.

That may not be enough if Nokia wants to continue being the No. 1 mobile phone maker on the planet. The company sees the mobile phone as a computer and as a result has crammed many awesome hardware features into its devices. Their usability, however, is less than stellar. I’ve had some frustration with Nokia’s S60-based user experience. For instance, while I love the Nokia N95 8GB, it cries out for a simpler and more elegant music player, as well as for a camera interface that isn’t so confusing. What Nokia really needs to do — in addition to adding context awareness to its devices — is to simplify their usability.

In India, Location-based Search Kicks Off

Earlier this month, India surpassed the U.S. as the second-largest mobile market (by subscriber count) in the world. With close to 280 million subscribers, it now has enough of a user base to become a breeding ground for a new class of applications that take into account local realities such as a lack of high -peed networks, cheap phones and a reliance on SMS.

Take Yulop, a Bangalore, India-based location-based startup. Instead of waiting around for GPS data, the tiny company is launching its location-based search service, which uses triangulation technologies and offers consumers listings of find businesses (shops, restaurants and) based on geo-tagged data from its database. Yulop plans to offer service in six cities in addition to its current market of Bangalore.

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Yahoo’s FireEagle Is Going Beta

Yahoo’s location based service enabler FireEagle is entering it’s beta testing phase today with an official announcement at ETech. The new web site of the service is still featuring an invite form, just as the alpha version did, so it might still be a limited beta test, or maybe someone still has to flip the switch. We will know more once FireEagle lead developer Tom Coates climbs on the ETech stage for his Fire Eagle keynote, which should be around 9.30am PST.

Are You Ready for Location-Based Advertising?

If in the first eight years of the 21st century contextual text advertising has proven to be the magic potion, then it is safe to say that the next decade or so is going to be about location-relevant advertising and marketing messages. LBA (location-based advertising) has been talked about in hushed tones for so long that it’s hard not to roll one’s eyes. I have been skeptical for a while, but more recently my opinion has started to change.

Inside Dash, Web 2.0 Thrives

Dash Navigation, with its network-connected global positioning system (GPS) device, has achieved what so many other companies have tried and failed to do — built a service that combines disparate data streams into one place where we can use them in everyday life. And as such, it is a device that reflects the true spirit of Web 2.0.

Microsoft buys Multimap

Microsoft said today that it has acquired online mapping services provider Multimap of the UK, a move it said “will play a significant role in the future growth” of its search business. Multimap will operate as a subsidiary of the Redmond giant, part of the Virtual Earth and Search teams in its Online Services Group. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Mapping has become a hot category. Nokia and other companies have been making a big push in map-based services and applications. As we had noted earlier, Google Maps have proved to be a killer application on the iPhone.