Friday, March 27, 2009

Room for Italian innovation in location aware technology?

With the iPhone and its successful App Store model, Apple has provided developers with both a powerful GPS-enabled platform to work with, but also an instrument to reach easily the customets. This was hugely beneficial for the industry, causing a proliferation of GPS-enabled devices, followed the develoment of a wide range of location-aware application, the first generation of which targeted mostly the social networking space.

Some examples include:
  • : loction aware social network (watch a demo video here)
  • Google Latitude: location aware social network (demo)
  • Other well known giants in teh mobile phone arena have produced some applications of this kind, such as Vodafone with Pocketlife and Nokia with Friend View (location aware microblogging), Vine (live cross-media geotagging service and journal) and Plazes (Geo-tagging-based social networking site).
  • More applications of this kind can be found here.
As the technology continues evolving and the consumers grow more acquainted with it, we are beginning to see a new generation of more mature applications, that use location awareness in more creative ways:
  • Newber is an interesting iPhone app that adds a second business line to your iphone and redirects incoming calls to any phone using GPS location
  • Carticipate, a location aware car sharing application.
  • Some more interesting examples can be found here.

Facts and trends
Given this technological landscape, I recently came across with some interesting information that, in my opinion, provide interesting indicators for the future:

  • "While global handset shipments are expected to drop by 4-5% in 2009, GPS-enabled phones will climb to 240 mln units, an increase of 6.4% over 2008" (source)
  • A new family of higly portable computers is on the rise: netbooks. Some conservative sales figures for these low cost computres figures published by the Wall Street Journal ( quote 2008 sales of 10.8 millions units, and project that number to grow in excess of 20.8 million in 2009 (source).
  • 2008 has seen a 29% increase in sales in Wi-Fi chipsets (source).
  • The company powering the much-praised location technology used on the iPhone is Boston-based Skyhook Wireless. Their technology is based on a combination of GPS, Cell Tower triangulation and WiFi-based calculation, allowing for precise and reliable localization. Skyhook and Opera have recently announced a partnership aimed at bringing Skyhook's Wi-Fi based geolocation to the web, making Skyhook's wi-fi based solution available with just a few lines of Javascript in their code (source).
  • GPS and Wi-Fi localization have significantly different caracterestics. GPS is highly accurate and works worldwide, but is relatively slow and requires a clear view of the sky; Wi-Fi location is less precise (30 metres, can be much higher in areas of high wireless density) and works only in areas with substantial Wi-Fi coverage, but is very fast and works indoors.
  • In 2006, Silicon Valley company Sandisk wreleased the world's first card to include both memory and WLAN (802.11b) communications in a single SD card. In most recent times, other companies such as Spectec and Eye-Fi have entered the arena, and others such as Sagem have plans to do so in the near future (source).
  • The recent developments in Cloud Computing make it possible for machines of limited processing power or storage capacity to access complex application via the Internet.

Room for innovation?
In sintesys:
  • Location-aware applications are reaching new levels of maturity and complexity, and will most likely benefit greatly from the advancements in cloud computing technology.
  • Sales of GPS enabled devices are on the rise.
  • Technology allowing Wi-Fi based localization will soon become mainstream, and the increasing sales of portable wireless-enabled devices will make it more appealing for developers.
  • With the progress of WI-Fi SD technology, every object with a memory card could become a potential user of localization technology.

It appears that these trends suggest that a quantum leap in location-based services is to be expected in the near future, with applications breaking the boundaries of GPS-enabled devices and reaching the Internet as a whole. The potential is clearly huge not only for consumer application, but also in fields such as e-Government, Public safety and utility.

My question for the Mind The Bridge community is: will Italian innovation be a part in this new technological trend?

The premises are good: Italian company UbiEst was won the grand prize of the 2008 EMEA edition of the LBS Challenge, a global competition rewarding the most innovative location-based services.

1 comment:

Alberto Cecioni said...


Those of you that are interested in this topic should follow the proceedings of the upcoming Where2009 conference organized by O'Reilly.