Mere applications, not services

Dec 2007 | No Comment

According to a report by ABI Research, there will be over 240 million GPS-enabled mobile phones in 2008. Many of these phones will find their way into India, which translates into a huge opportunity for the Indian GPS/ GIS industry. But will these millions of GPS enabled handhelds be used for navigation alone? The probability is low.

To illustrate our point, let’s do a status check of consumer-oriented GPS services in India. Currently, brands like Airtel, Google, MapmyIndia, Nokia and Yahoo! provide navigational maps for Indian cities. Some of these maps cover almost four dozen cities and close to half-amillion Points of Interests (PoI). But try searching the route to a residential address and the navigation software will return no results. The problem with the current GPS services is their inability to give last mile navigation directions to the user. While GPS application developers claim that a user won’t have to roll down a window to ask for directions again, the harsh reality is that is exactly one has to do after veering off from the main road.

Another aspect, which holds true in the Indian scenario, is the current offerings are mere ‘applications’ and not ‘services’. When we say GPS as a service, we include things like live traffic updates, which would come handy for a user to avoid traffic jams and take a detour instead. At present, we use GPS only for navigation, that too when we are headed to an unknown place, an occurrence that doesn’t happen frequently to justify the need. We appreciate the effort that has gone in putting together detailed digital maps of Indian cities but we fear that isn’t enough.

Unlike a couple of years ago, when consumer oriented GPS enabled devices were expensive and rare, in 2008 there will be many midend cellphones(and not forgetting Bluetooth enabled GPS receivers) available to choose from. Don’t be surprised if you get to hear a statement by the end of 2008 that indicates more number of GPS -enabled cellphones were shipped that stand-alone personal navigation devices. After all, it has happened with digital cameras, portable music players and PDAs, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be the same with personal navigation devices. Most of the consumers of such cellphones will be the youth, who at this point aren’t the typical end-users that the GPS industry caters to. These rather sudden developments require a change in the perspective of how the industry looks at the GPS market. We believe that instead of mere navigation, GPS based social networking and user generated content sharing applications will be more popular in 2008.

The benefit of having a GPS in a cellphone is the fact that anything and everything can be tagged with a precise geographic location that is as accurate as 10 metres. An application that geotagging places (restaurants, night clubs, coffee shops, malls) with user generated reviews might become popular with users registering themselves to get reviews via text messages when they are around that location. Or location based social networking that let’s you meet friends or friends-of-friends, who can ping you and meet, when you are nearby can take the likes of Facebooks and Orkuts to a different level.

With the emergence of high resolution cameras in cellphones, there is no dearth of user generated content in the form of videos and photographs. If users geotag them, upload them to a common application, we can have almost every conceivable part of the globe captured in prints and video footage. The possibilities are endless. Let’s give the consumer something more to do with his GPS-enabled cellphone. And of course, let’s find new avenues to generate revenues with existing technology.

Rajat Agrawal The author has been writing about cellphones and cellular technology for over three years now. You can read his take on the mobile world.

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