Satellite navigation finds its way to phones
"There's something wickedly cool about using a device that reacts to your location... It's almost magical,"Updated: Apr 08, 2006 17:16 IST
It's Friday, 10 pm. Do you know where your friends are?
You could give them a call, but if their mobile phones are equipped with the latest in satellite navigation, you could also go to a Web site such as Mologogo (mologogo) to find their whereabouts on a map, accurate to within a few metres.
Mologogo, which displays a user's location only to those authorized to see it, is just one of the applications that have sprung up as satellite navigation. Once an exclusive feature in expensive cars, it is now finding its way into mobile phones.
Amsterdam-based A2B (a2b) allows users to search for Web sites close to their own location, showing results ranging from personal blogs to the Internet sites of restaurants and museums, complete with headings and distance to the desired destination.
A search conducted while standing on Amsterdam's central Dam square, yields Web sites such as Madame Tussauds Amsterdam, just 56 metres southwest, a restaurant 178 metres away in the same direction as well as the Amsterdam Prostitution Information Centre at a distance of 396 metres to the northeast.
Using Geominder (ludimate), an application for Nokia phones, users can attach a reminder to a certain location -- reminding them, for example, to buy milk as they pass the supermarket.
Instead of GPS, Geominder identifies specific locations using information from the mobile phone network's cells, which is less precise but requires no special hardware.
"There's something wickedly cool about using a device that reacts to your location... It's almost magical," Jorge Diogo, lead developer of Lisbon-based Ludimate, said in an email interview.
Diogo said "pure geek motivation" had been behind his first experiments with Geominder, but there was no doubt such applications were useful.
A2B founder Sam Critchley -- whose business card shows the coordinates 52 degrees 22 minutes north, 4 degrees 52 minutes east, instead of an address -- said the ingredients for a wider adoption of location-based services were coming together.
Most mobile Internet users can already be positioned using GPS, cell information or other methods with varying degrees of accuracy, he said.
"Lots of people now have flat-rate data plans, and the growth in smart phones is enormous. All these things are converging and will be facilitators," Critchley said.
Built-in GPS receivers are currently mostly a feature of high-end phones such as Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ and some Blackberry models, or specialized phones for children or high-risk patients who can call for help at the press of a button and transmit their location.
In the United States, operators such as Sprint Nextel have opted to use GPS-enabled phones to comply with the e911 directive, which requires operators to provide location information with emergency calls from mobile phones.
Many other phones can also be turned into navigation devices with a separate, matchbox-size GPS unit that is plugged into the phone or connected wirelessly.
A number of companies already offer software for different types of phones to help drivers arrive at their destination.
But while help with getting from A to B is certainly practical, the more off-beat, social-oriented applications are the ones most likely to be exciting for users.
Critchley plans to add virtual graffiti to A2B -- effectively tagging a location with a particular comment, such as "Isn't the view nice?" or "I kissed my first girlfriend here on this bridge."
Mologogo developers say on their Web site they want to integrate their service with Yahoo's popular Flickr photo site as well as social event calendar Upcoming.org.
Mobile phone operators have a crucial role to play, but Critchley believes it will be the small developers trying out new ideas that will make location-based services popular.
"If mobile operators provided a platform for small developers to link into, we would be there already, because people would develop things that stick," he said.
First Published: Apr 08, 2006 11:06 IST