International Herald Tribune of Location Based Services

The International Herald Tribune had quite a good round up on Monday about the current state of play in the Location Based Services market (via the excellent Pasta and Vinegar) and why wi-fi location might be better, or certainly a compliment to, GPS.

The basic problems with the sector are:

1. Lack of usability

Will we never learn to make mobile applications simple and
intuitive? If the average person (not the average technically literate
engineer) needs a user manual, they probably won’t use the application.
This, above all things, is iPod’s strength – you can work out how it
works in a few minutes.

SMS is easy to learn (though not very user-friendly as an
interface). MMS is hard, especially if you expect the user to
reconfigure their phone.

LBS technology is hard to use. It must become easier.

2. Compelling Applications

Or lack thereof.

Most people know the area they’re in pretty well, most of the time.
Therefore, find-my-nearest-ATM/resturant has very limited appeal to
most people. And for the tiny minority who might find it useful from
time to time, they have to remember how to use the service – back to
clumsy usability again.

Besides which, it’s far easier to use a Social Navigation Interface
(as I recently heard it called – where?) otherwise know as asking
someone the way.

What we need is good, relevant applications build with the user in
mind. These innovations will almost certainly not come from operators,
but from indie developers and they can’t get their hands on the API’s.

Which brings us onto…

3. Operators

LBS has nose-dived in priority for most operators. They look at
early failures and cite them as evidence that LBS doesn’t work. Well,
that’s true if you do the same thing again and again, but why not try a
different approach?

I heard a rumour that LBS was about 24 in terms of priority for a
large Euro operators and I think that’s probably representative.

At the same time, as being low on the corporate development path,
they guard the API’s from people who might be able to do something with
them AND try to charge silly money for any feeds they do give out. Are
operators the only industry in the world who don’t realise that
starting with high prices and eventually being forced to drop them,
slows down adoption of their services?

The IHT article finishes with a rather odd quote from Kenneth Hyers, an analyst with ABI Research:

"For any new service to be successful, no matter what it is, it can’t
require a whole new way of thinking," Hyers said. "MP3 players have
become popular because they followed in the footsteps of the Walkman,
which for the past 25 years has gotten people used to listening to
portable music."

Yes it’s true, the iPod was able to stand on the shoulders of the Walkman. But the Walkman was a whole new way of thinking, surely?

As I wrote yesterday, successful technology is governed by Motivation
and Opportunity. Is there a compelling reason why people might want to
use it? Is there a tool that gives them the Opportunity to realise that
Motivation, at an acceptable cost?

So far, LBS has suffered from lack of motivation – there’s just no
reason why people want to use it. So give us some more interesting
applications please.

If we don’t get this, LBS will never take off, which will be a shame. Or it’ll take off in a way that works round the operator network, which would be stupid.

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