Phones use one of two methods to figure out where they are (and if you happen to be carrying it, where you are). The first is built-in gps. Nokia is leading the way with these smart phones, having announced four new phones earlier this month at the Mobile World Congress 2008, where 50,000 people (including keynote Robert Redford) gathered in Barcelona to talk all things mobile (but mostly about devices and less-than-innovative uses of these devices).
The second way to locate your device is how Apple is doing it. Late to the game and experimenting with workarounds, location-based applications found form at this year’s MacWorld when Apple announced a software update for the iPhone that allows iPhoners to find their location via a system of triangulation of wifi access points and cell-towers. They made a licensing deal with Skyhook, a Boston start-up to use their positioning system. (Software is already available for most smart phones not gps-enabled through Navizon, a peer-to-peer wireless system.)
We are not yet to the point of embedding content in place, but locative media concepts have led Apple to the next step. Apple has filed for a patent that lets folks request Point A to Point B directions, thereby creating a neo-navigation system. The process is a little convoluted, but you request directions from Point A to Point B, that info is then sent to a “pod map” creator, something akin to a server which returns text based directions, puts it through speech recognition software, aligns it to map images, and then outputs a podcast.
While the patent and concept moves Apple a little closer to location-based features; it is without real “locative” innovation because the location data isn’t real time. There is no auto-update to give a real time, approximation of your location. It is matching maps with voice, but only statically. These podcasts can’t be much more than animated hard-copy directions because they are not based on the current location, and not delivered on the fly. They are static, stuck in time, and based on where you were, not where you are. What happens if a turn is missed? There is no recalculating. What happens if a street is closed? Can’t figure out the best workaround route because there is no real-time location update available.
A researcher at Chrysler told me that navigational systems in cars have an 80%-20% rule, only it’s more like 95%-5%. 95% of the time gps is used by 5% of the people, and the majority of those folks are salesmen, and on the road most of the time. 95% of the time we get into our car, we know how to get to where we are going, and don’t need directions. This may be changing as features like “best route” and “congestion avoidance” are added, but still seems to ring true.
In the end, you learn what is being done with the technology, and then you ponder what could be done with the technology. Suggestions for what could be done: have driving tours of historic areas; customize theme music as you drive through certain neighborhoods (the Motor City pops to mind); newsworthy and located current events. If we can have navigation systems that deliver real-time directions (linking voice files to place and delivering it in real time), there’s no good reason why we can’t use the same system to deliver meaningful content – just change the content from “turn left in a half a mile on Avenue A,” to, say, Martin Luther King’s Speech at the Great March on Detroit in June 1963 (with his good friend the Reverend C.L. Franklin sitting with him on the platform and daughter Aretha’s music in the background) and hear instead, “The only answer that we can give to that is that the motor’s now cranked up and we’re moving up the highway of freedom toward the city of equality and we can’t afford to stop now because our nation has a date with destiny. We must keep moving.”
Suppose this is how we used the technology?