Here's a little secret about location technology: It's rapidly becoming a commodity, especially with the explosive growth of GPS (Global Positioning System) for consumer devices. And while location data is valuable, any future for location services and applications will depend upon the wireless Internet. These services are destined to blossom with everything from finding the cheapest gas to the safest neighborhoods for house hunting to -- and it’s GPS-enabled now -- the location of sex offenders.
The handwriting is on the wall: GPS is already a commodity item. Where it didn't exist in U.S. cellular phones a few years ago, today almost every phone manufacturer offers at least one GPS handset. When it comes to other consumer devices, GPS soon will become almost as common a feature as CD players in vehicles and cameras in phones.
The market research firm In-Stat forecasts worldwide shipments of personal navigation devices will rise from 30.7 million in 2007 to 68 million in 2012. Research firm Databeans predicts the GPS chipset market will increase from $729 million in 2008 to $1.3 billion in 2013, sparked in large part by cellular growth.
Faced with this growth, GPS vendors will need wireless Internet to differentiate their offerings.
There is already a poster child for the new breed of GPS business -- Dash Navigation. A few months ago, this company began selling its Dash Express, a vehicle navigation box that combines real-time telemetry, Internet access, and social networking via integrated WiFi and GSM GPRS.
Dash correlates and transmits real-time traffic information to the Express via embedded road sensors. It also uses "crowd sourcing," automatically uploading traffic speeds from individual Express devices to help customers find the fastest routes to their destinations.
Crowd sourcing and social networking are crucial to the success of Dash Express. Users may employ Yahoo Local on the Express to search for restaurants, coffee shops, etc. For a monthly subscription fee of $10 to $13, they can also transmit their own searches or those of other users to their Express devices. And a new API allows developers to post and share applications: Dave Zatz, Dash's manager of online communications (and a well known blogger), tells me some 30 applications are available. These include Twittering from the Express, playing a game of “claiming” your locations, and even finding the locations of registered sex offenders.
Only the Beginning
This is just the start of emerging next-generation GPS services. There are other examples: Today, using a cellphone you can view traffic in real time from 270 cameras located at strategic traffic points in Los Angeles, using the services of 3rd Dimension. Why couldn’t you also view traffic cameras on your in-vehicle GPS device?
What if businesses and consumers created audio and video files describing places to visit (or avoid) that could be wirelessly downloaded to a GPS device? In addition, what if photos and videos from digital cameras, camcorders, and camera phones could be integrated into GPS databases, so you’d be able to see thousands of locations -- inside and out -- from around the country?
For safety and convenience, GPS devices should incorporate advanced voice recognition software to verbally search for information and download data.
Here’s a service I’d love: Have you ever driven along a seemingly never-ending road in the middle of nowhere and wondered: Am I really going in the right direction? What if you could download an “encouragement” audio or video file that would say something like: “For 27 miles you’re not going to see much of anything except a two-lane road and a few trees. At mile 29 you should see a deserted red barn on the right. At mile 33 you’ll see 'Bill’s Insect and Reptile Zoo' on the left. Keep up the good work. You’re driving in the right direction!”
On the downside, some advanced services could significantly increase hardware prices. Downloading large files will require more expensive 3G cellular data technology, although you could download files at free WiFi hotspots or transfer them from your computer to the GPS device with a memory card, USB cable, or Bluetooth.
Bottom line? Twenty years ago, GPS systems cost tens of thousands of dollars and could fit only in a military transport vehicle. Today, GPS chips are a few dollars. GPS will become omnipresent, and the potential for new applications is staggering.
— Alan Reiter, President,
Wireless Internet & Mobile