is location a web concept (yet)? not really so far, even though of course there are many location-based services (LBS) out there. but many are trapped in specific services such as google maps or foursquare, often for business reasons, sometimes also for technical reasons. there still needs work to be done to turn location and LBS into first-class citizens on the web. as an illustration, this week brought two interesting developments:
garmin is one of the biggest makers of GPS devices. in the consumer market, they have been plagued by what i call the
sony syndrome: really great hardware, but both the software and the service offerings backing it are mediocre at best, or just pathetic (other companies afflicted by this syndrome are suunto and motorola). case in point are the new online capable edge GPS devices. i have an edge 800 for my bike and always thought how cool it would be to pair it with strava and get alerts of upcoming segments. the new edge devices are now
online capable by pairing them via bluetooth with your smartphone, but get this: the only site on the web they can talk to is garmin's own connect service. yes, that's apparently what garmin thinks
seeing something like this always is interesting to analyze: is it for business reasons, or because of a lack of vision? in this case it must be the latter, because garmin is not making money off of connect (which also happens to be one of the not-so-stellar services for sharing GPS-based activity data out there).
exhibit 2: the fabulous raceshape.com service recently launched a strava-based heatmap service, where users can create heatmaps of all of their activities. it's fascinating, because you can see hundreds of rides and runs on one simple map. the map image shown here is a screenshot of a full interactive version where raceshape has generated thousands of tiles which summarize three years of GPS track data.
now imagine a GPS device you can take with you, that at each and every turn can show you where you went before, and where you might see new things (or simply switch to the global heatmap to see where people in general go and don't go). by pulling the heatmap into a GPS device, you could do this and whatever else people come up with as ideas. you would have an open ecosystem for ideas around location, many people could build specialized LBS sites, and since garmin is not making any money with connect itself, they wouldn't lose money if people ignore connect's mediocre and limited services, and instead would subscribe to their favorite services. recent bird sightings. geocaching. places of historical interest. botanical guides. you name it, just let somebody build it, plug it into the ecosystem, and there's one more incentive to buy a garmin for a previously indifferent group of people.
what would it take to make this happen, apart from more forward-looking software and service strategies one the part of hardware specialists? an open architecture to build LBS that allow devices to dynamically subscribe to and pull data in from LBS in a standardized way. in our tiled feeds work, we have developed such an architecture, which interestingly is based on the model that raceshape is using now: tiles for various zoom levels to represent LBS features. check out our demo app with a couple of (hardcoded) sample LBS providers, and all of this is completely decentralized. the image shown here is using my iPhone locations (pulled from the phone before apple fixed this particular privacy snafu).
imagine being able to simple configure a couple of URIs as LBS providers, powering up the GPS, pairing it with the smartphone, and then the information you are interested in is shown right in front of you. you could even cache this when you know where you're going to be, because it's all REST-based and thus LBS tiles can be requested and cached on the device, if you're not going to be online all of the time.
my newest hope for a company
getting it is leikr, the OSM-based GPS watch just funded through kickstarter. maybe if they have enough strategic vision to identify a competitive edge, they will recognize this opportunity that is still being left wide open by the incumbents. currently, they seem to plan to be pretty tightly coupled to endomondo, which to some extent is understandable (for the activity management part). however, enabling LBS to be freely pulled into the watch could be the great differentiator, and it remains to be seen which company in this space will first understand that services matter, ecosystems matter, and openness matters.