Consumer mobile location services are here to stay

Ever since I first used a “find the nearest —–” service, nearly 7 years ago, I have thought that location-based mobile services would change the way we function in our daily lives.

Judging by the current state of the industry, it looks like 2010 may be the year that consumer mobile location services finally take-off.

Why are consumer mobile location services now taking off?

A number of related factors have finally made mobile location services practical. This includes:

  • High-accuracy GPS positioning is now available in most new, mid to high-end mobile handsets
  • Smartphones that allow users to download specialized mobile applications for different needs (i.e. iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Palm)
  • The shift to flat-fee, mobile Internet service plans
  • Growing acceptance and usage of online social networks, media and collaborative services
  • Consumers’ growing desire for services that provide greater relevance and offer immediate gratification

What are the consumer location-based mobile services we are seeing?

Many practical consumer applications have emerged, addressing specific consumer-related needs:

Peer-to-Peer Applications:

  • Local and Community Information – Local announcements, messages, tips, events
  • Consumer opinion – Peer recommendations, user feedback and tips on local spots, events and activities
  • Customer feedback – On-the-spot customer feedback to businesses’ products and services
  • Location sharing / Person finder – Publicize current location / Find friends, location-based dating

Business-to-Consumer / Consumer-to-Business Applications:

  • Information search – Public announcements, local businesses, special points of interest, personal navigation, etc.
  • Marketing & Advertising – Announcing local specials, promotions and limited time offers
  • Customer Loyalty – Invitations to special events, mobile coupons, customer loyalty programs and rewards, etc.

Specific examples of these applications include Block Chalk, Google Latitude, WorkSnug, Pages Jaunes, Meet Moi, Google Maps for Mobile, Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook, and Twitter.

Perhaps the most interesting  development is the recent announcement by Starbucks Coffee who plans to partner with Foursquare and use their business intelligence capabilities for monitoring customer behavior and interacting with them, in order to get feedback on what customers like and do not like, rewarding frequent customers with rewards.

With the forthcoming arrival of new generation, portable i-media devices such as the Apple iPad, we can also expect digital newspapers and magazines that embed interactive, multimedia advertising based on a users location and preferences (See i-Media: coming to any device near you).

Various user concerns also exist, previously holding back take up of location service. These included worries on information privacy, identity security, digital spamming, and device power consumption, however such issues are currently being addressed in different ways.

The current developments in mobile location services offer consumers more relevant and near-instant ways to satisfy varying need, but in many cases their trusted mobile service providers are being dis-intermediated from the value chain. Mobile device manufacturers, mobile OS developers and specialized mobile application developers are driving innovation, while leveraging the mobile service provider’s network-based GPS location information and mobile Internet connectivity.

How could mobile service provider play a greater role in location services?

Different strategies might help service provider regain a firmer foothold in the location services game, while enriching the consumer experience. This might include:

  • Acting as trusted, personal payment provider for purchasing goods and services in a location-driven context, online and offline.
  • With consumers’ permission, offering selected user profile information to local retailers, in exchange for user-defined advertising and rewards.
  • Working with local media partners to make services, content and advertising more contextually relevant for consumers, by integrating location-dependent components.
  • Commercializing other valuable consumer mobile products and services leveraging location capabilities – GPS-enabled 3G USB sticks, Internet media pads, e-readers, car and bike navigation services, etc.
  • Tightly integrating its communication and messaging services into location applications and user devices, enabling seamless communication.

By focusing on such strategies, mobile service providers can offer increasingly relevant and practical services that help their customers during their daily lives, bring greater personalization and convenience to consumerism while further fluidifying daily transactions and social relations.

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