We had a location based services focused Mobile Monday at the start of the week. There were some great presentations, people working on interesting stuff and some promising work going on. But I have to admit that my overall takeaway is that there’s a huge disjoin between user and developer expectation about LBS and what those inside the industry think.
The folks inside LBS claim that “location based services are here now!” in the US because of recent rollouts of technology. But the reality is that LBS is possible, not convenient yet. That’s not to say that useful applications can’t be built on top of LBS. I think Spencer from Bones in Motion did a fantastic job of explaining all the pitfalls and problems that they had to work around in putting together a well packaged and convenient application that integrates location as a core aspect (see Spencer’s blog for some more info, his slides are up online as well). In general that’s not going to cut it however.
I agree with what Charlie says about location based services, there needs to be more ground up activity. The current environment in terms of LBS doesn’t really allow for that though. In many instances the application developer has to get a special key so that their app can get location info out of the handset, many of the handsets out in the market still don’t support convenient access to that information, it’s costly to the user and follows an unpredictable cost model that varies from network to network, and maps and other geographic info are viewed as value bearing resources that “someone has to pay for”.
However when I talk to developers thinking about working on a mobile app that includes location they ask what API they have to call to get a map centered on the current location of the phone. The low barrier to experimentation with online services has generally lead to a proliferation of (sometimes) interesting applications, and the same thing can be expected for mobile. That’s where current developer expectation is, and I think rightly so. If I start talking about getting API keys from carriers and then purchasing map info from someone they generally wrinkle their nose, mutter “screw that”, and wander off to their next idea. For them location based services are most definitely not “here now”, they’re not even close. And I think the environment won’t really start to get interesting until we reach that point where the barrier to experimentation is much lower.