Ranting About The Location-Based/Mobile Landscape (Random Commentary)

by Justin on September 18, 2008

When I started GPS Obsessed back at the end of 2007, it was done so out of my interest with the rapidly evolving GPS market and its growing connection to the mobile sphere.

Om Malik’s ongoing Mobilize conference really touches on some of the core ideas spurring my interest and this evening I’ve been reading through the extensive live-blogging done today during the variety of panels that were held.

Not surprisingly, location and its relationship to social networking was a big topic, as was application development, design challenges, the LTE/WiMAX competition, and the increasing openness of wireless carriers.

There is definitely a trend away from users having multiple devices, especially as mobile phones and UMPC’s tend to have features that would previously have required a PND, digital camera, video camera, PC, and so on.  But while the trend is moving toward one device, most panelists don’t seem to think it will happen anytime soon.  In fact, the most successful devices are still those that do one thing really well, i.e. Amazon’s Kindle.  This would seem to support a change in how we use devices and what our needs are.

Social networking will remain big, growing at an enormously fast rate and closely tied to a user’s location such as with apps Loopt and WHERE.  But even social networking may change.  One audience member voiced the opinion that each of us has an address book in our mobile phone that functions as our social network.  A Facebook rep stated that we should keep an eye on this, pointing to a future where rather than the social network serving as a platform for our relationships, our personal data serves as the platform for the social network to be built.

While mobile social networking startups are popping up all over the place, even those that have been established for a time are still not profitable, or if they are just barely.  Loopt’s Evan Tana, Director of Product Management and Marketing, says that the mobile advertising landscape doesn’t yet have enough inventory to provide enough options for users.  But we think that as GPS becomes more ubiquitous and mobile technology evolves to allow product purchase with mobile devices, ads will become much more highly targeted and users will actually have access to the convenience required to use them.  Then we’ll see mobile social networks begin to profit.

As carriers begin to open themselves to application developers, we’ll begin to see iPhone App Store-like business models become more widespread.  In fact, T-Mobile has just announced their devPartner program and once T-Mobile’s G1 is released in the next few weeks we’ll probably see something focused around the Android platform.

One of the current challenges in application development is the lack of support across all carriers.  To gain access to the user base of every major handset carrier, apps often have to be written numerous times to work with each.  One possible solution really involves bringing our traditional desktop internet to the mobile device.  Right now, the user experience isn’t the same.  Bandwidth, a smaller screen and even device battery power are challenges that lie in the way of an effective mobile internet experience.  But it’s been widely suggested that Google’s Chrome browser is ultimately going to be geared toward the mobile internet.  If that’s so and it’s widely adopted, it’s possible that application development could move towards a web-based model as browser-based apps would require the same code with any carrier or device.

Changes will continue to be quick and effective in this space and if you’re as interested as I am you should definite head over to GigaOm to check out all the info.  It’s quite an eye-opener.

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