Location Aware Applications

A technology that is quickly emerging is location aware applications. These are apps that leverage mobile devices to pinpoint your geographic location. Google, as usual, is the pioneer in this area. They launched a location-aware product last year that is installed on iPhones and many other mobile devices. What they do is use the cellular network to pinpoint the users location even if the phone does not have a GPS. This is a nifty feature because they plot the users location on an interactive google map that is displayed on the phone.

This is actually simple to do. Law enforcement has been doing something similar for years. Google just detects the cellular tower ID’s (each one is unique) that the phone can see and then triangulate on them. The more towers in an area the better the accuracy. Government agencies do it the opposite way. The towers see the phone and pinpoints in reverse.

Google has opened up their location-aware API, which has allowed third-party developers to write applications that can interface with it. This can be used to get real time information about restaurants, night clubs, reviews, etc. Applications are also being developed that push the users location to the web.

The upload capability of location-specific information has already spawned an entire new type of business. What’s emerging now is that land-based sites are collecting this information and then making it easily available to other web-based applications. Fire Eagle, who is owned by Yahoo, is one of those companies. They are basically the location-aware middleman, which means that they act as an intermediary between different services that want to share location information. The big advantage for users is that you can control it all in one place. If you want to disable access by an application you just log into Fire Eagle and turn it off.

Why is this information useful? Fire Eagle receives encrypted location feeds from a number of different sources including Spot Messenger and then stores the location. As location aware applications become more common you can mix and match the service you use. Tell Fire Eagle to allow the iPhone to update your location and now twitter, Face Book, blogs, etc. that uses Fire Eagle will be updated as well.

Here’s my location plotted on the map. This map will automatically update to wherever I happen to be. I have this set to display city-level detail, but it can get to pinpoint accuracy. It is as accurate as the device providing the location information.


I’m confident that we will start seeing a lot more location-aware services. Everything form lojack-type vehicle location devices to child finders. Who doesn’t have a cell phone now days? Oh yeah, and let’s not forget Google just launched their own internet-connected google phone on T-Mobile last week!

It is taking awhile for the technology to mature, but no doubt location-aware services are going to be big. It is simple, people get it and it is useful. The right application will no doubt make its creators very rich. Call me if you have an idea for a killer location-aware app.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

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