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Summary:

Earlier today, Google unveiled Latitude, a nifty little application for your smartphone (as long as it’s not an iPhone) that lets your friends locate you, and you them, on a map. But Latitude is actually the result of a much bigger battle between Google and the mobile operators, of which location-based services are but one small part.

Earlier today, Google unveiled Latitude, a nifty little application for your smartphone (as long as it’s not an iPhone) that lets your friends locate you, and you them, on a map. It reminds me of that great Boost Mobile commercial, the one with the tagline, Where you at?! As the Google Mobile blog explains:

Latitude is a new feature of Google Maps for mobile, as well as an iGoogle gadget, that allows you to share your location with your friends and to see their approximate locations, if they choose to share them with you. You can use your Google account to sign in and easily invite friends to Latitude from your existing list of contacts or by entering their email addresses. Google Talk is integrated with Latitude, so you and your friends can update your status messages and profile photos on the go and see what everyone is up to. You can also call, SMS, IM, or email each other within the app.

Google Latitude vs Dodgeball Photo Courtesy of Flickr

In fact, Latitude is the result of a much bigger battle between Google and the mobile operators, of which location-based services are but one small part.

As I have said so many times in the past, LBS is the next big pot of gold. Just this week, I wrote: “My big belief is that as we transition to an increasingly mobile world, the location beacon takes the role of the TCP, and most mobile services (and applications) find their context from this location beacon.” Panelists at our Mobilize conference last year were of the opinion that location is about adding relevancy to applications already being used. I’d put it a bit more bluntly: In the future, mobile applications without context provided by location-based services will be like pizza without cheese.

We’ve already seen the rapid commoditization of the Global Position System (GPS) chips and hardware. Many of the GPS chipset vendors, such as Broadcom, Qualcomm, SiRF and CSR, have licensed Skyhook Wireless’ Wi-Fi positioning information, which adds depth to location-related information. In addition, there are many aggregators — Wavemarket, Loc-Aid and uLocate, for example — that sell network-centric location data as well.

And in keeping with my theme from last night, I’d like to point out that there are already products on the market that do what Latitude promises. DodgeBall, a company Google itself bought, was doing something similar a few years ago. (Thanks Matt, for that link.) Of course Latitude could prove to be bad news for location startup Loopt. As one of our readers wrote, “Loopt has not cracked the code yet in terms of getting enough customers or getting PAID for the customers they do have.”

Actually, Latitude is most similar to a friend locator offering from Useful Networks called Sniff, which is available on Sprint. In order to be effective on a larger scale, Sniff would have to do cross-carrier location information aggregation. They plan to announce more deals and trials at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month.

In the meantime, with Latitude Google is moving to commoditize both the map information and the location beacon. Google is using triangulation data from cellular networks, and Wi-Fi positioning along with GPS data for its Latitude offering. It is only a matter of time before this location information is made available to other developers for free, especially Android app developers. After all, Google needs apps for its Android platform, and more importantly it needs developers to think differently. 

By doing so, it’s going after a potentially lucrative revenue stream for the carriers. As Stacey had noted, “Developers are charged each time their program asks a server for the GPS coordinates of the mobile device, making location-based services a potentially pricey feature.”

North American carriers in particular are at risk here. They need a collective LBS aggregation strategy, and fast, according to Chetan Sharma, a mobile industry expert, which is where offerings from Qualcomm can help. But will those be enough? I don’t think so.

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  1. Coming back to the big idea todo list. My todo list is a list of lists which is location and time dependent, could someone with the big brains just write it for me … running on the iPhone with approximate location please.

  2. Here is another location aware service, PocketLife – http://www.pocketlife.com – launched recently with backing by Vodafone

  3. I agree, the battle is on. I have heard that Google released Latitude earlier as planned to counter Vodafone’s Pocket Life (launched at http://www.pocketlife.com in December 2008). Pocket Life seems to be way ahead, but of course Google might catch up soon…

  4. @ronald

    great one. I bet remember the milk crew is looking at thatright now.

  5. I agree. Google is the futures of human beings, Look, Google, Have google app to connect websites, google has advertising, google has google earth, google also has mobile. Good Luck, cheers for google

  6. TOPENTREPRENEUR Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    let them compite, we are the winners with more services

  7. Om,
    That great Boost commercial was created for the Boost Loopt launch back in 2006. Here’s the link:

    Also, I can’t access the Loopt reader comment that you reference in your post, but just wanted to make sure you and your readers were aware that Loopt is indeed interoperable across all major US carriers and available on over 100 different mobile devices including the iPhone, BlackBerry and G1. And our community of users is over 1 million strong and growing.

    There are lot of exciting players in this space right now which is great for mass market adoption and awareness of LBS. At Loopt, we remain committed and focused on helping people discover and navigate the world around them.

    http://www.looptblog.com

  8. You forgot to add “A poor man’s Fire Eagle”.

  9. As someone who took part in the development LBS around 1999, I have seen the excitements before, only to be ruined by privacy concerns. Hope this will be different this time.

  10. Giving ourselves enough Latitude to hang ourselves with – WinExtra Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    [...] In the first instance it isn’t like what Google has done is anything new which some folks quite rightly pointed out. It would seem to be another case of it’s because it’s Google doing it which is driving the [...]

  11. Always On Real-Time Access » LBS – Latitude Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    [...] an interesting step towards making LBS pervasive. We discussed LBS last week in Palto Alto at PARC. Om has a good overview. I have been looking at location based services since 96 or so. In the early days it used to be [...]

  12. Why I like Latitude » Vad NU! Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    [...] has launched it’s Latitude initiative, which is essentially a way of using location based services on the mobile phone to see where your [...]

  13. Google Latitude, pas réellement un réseau social mobile | FredCavazza.net Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] With Latitude, Google Fires Another Shot at Mobile Operators Mots clés : google, Mobile-2.0, réseaux-sociaux [...]

  14. @ loopt shari

    Why should I pay to use loopt when Google Latitude is free?

  15. yes, google has numerous mobile applications as well as a presence on all mobile platforms. What they don’t have is proper leadership to guide them to financial stability. With a down economy and multiple “platforms” being developed, flaws in the systems are causing too much down time and not enough productivity for the Red, Yellow, green and blue logo. the ability to build and “shoddily” post applications, means nothing if the end user can not experience what the coder originally created. I will attempt to utilize latitude, though low memory and bugs will further disrupt my utopian experience. Everyone will peak somewhere…google did, be on the look for some more innovation from the Yahoo camp. or is investing in altavista a solution?

  16. my thoughts regarding LBS are fairly complicated, and when google introduces something like this, there are so many things to bring up, i hardly know what to mention. just briefly a few things i would point out:

    -LBSs seem to be very mobile-centric. while seems very obvious, i cant help but feel that its too limiting/exclusive since smartphone users dont exactly constitute a large portion of the potential market

    -as a few other articles have pointed out, our friends arent really on google, theyre on facebook, myspace, maybe twitter. Om pointed out that soon location data will become publicly available for developers, and that data needs to be combined with our real friends lists to really be useful. when it comes to LBSs, its the location data itself thats the most important (as opposed to users/community, which was the case for social networks). therefore, there needs to (eventually) be a standard format for sharing location so the data can be easily piped around and used.

    -there needs to be a cultural change to overcome the entire privacy concern. the way i see it: 5 years ago if you told people we would broadcast their life for everyone to see over the webs, theyd think youre crazy, but thats exactly what twitter, friendfeed, and facebook do (when newsfeed/minifeed first came out, users hated it, but now…)

    -my feelings toward latitude are mixed. on one hand it feels like an entry into a market that is relatively young and uncrowded (which seems rare for google to do). on the other hand it feels like a very half baked product thats only available to a limited number of users who have smartphones and very few practical applications. is google rushing this?

    -interface design for LBSs are very difficult. everyone seems to emphasize the map, but thats very difficult to use pragmatically. its cumbersome, takes time to load, doesnt fit on a small screen. we’re dealing with a new type of data and a medium never dealt with before. there needs to be some innovation beyond just a map or just text or a combination of the two. on the same point, i feel often that inaccurate GPS/wi-fi/celltower triangulation doesnt do a lot of people that much good. for most of our day to day lives, we go about routines and dont travel that much. semantically a pair of coordinates or an address doesnt do us much good, but a zoomed out map doesnt do us that much good either (i know friendx is in cityx but thats not what i needed to know).

    anyways, i rambled a ton. couldve written more. hopefully not everyone just glosses over it…

  17. With Latitude, Google Fires Another Shot at Mobile Operators « Waiguoren’s Weblog Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] Please Continue Reading Complete Post HERE [...]

  18. I agree that a carrier-specific location-based social network will find it hard to battle a more neutral offering, Latitude also challenges platform specific offerings too. See my thoughts here:

    Google Latitude shows what’s wrong with Nokia’s social location (SoLo) strategy http://www.last100.com/2009/02/05/google-latitude-shows-whats-wrong-with-nokias-social-location-strategy/

  19. McGuire’s Law » Blog Archive » Observations: Services – February 5, 2009 Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] With Latitude, Google Fires Another Shot at Mobile Operators [...]

  20. Patrick is Very Evolved Thursday, February 5, 2009

    I’ve failed to hear any convincing arguments how the benefits to the user are greater than the downsides. Sure it’s great for companies or your friends to track you – but how does this location broadcasting greatly benefit you while you’re transmitting out and about?

    Patrick

  21. iConverged » Location is a Tool NOT Application Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] etc. all as features of an existing, and very commonly used application.  Om has an interesting post on it. Read the comments, they are more [...]

  22. @ Todd,

    Loopt is FREE on the iPhone, BlackBerry and G1 – as well as on supported phones on Sprint and Boost. Verizon and MetroPCS currently charge a monthly subscription after a free trial period.

    http://www.loopt.com/phones

  23. links for 2009-02-05 | The Zone Read Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] With Latitude, Google Fires Another Shot at Mobile Operators Google unveiled Latitude, a nifty little application for your smartphone (as long as it’s not an iPhone) that lets your friends locate you, and you them, on a map. They could dominate mobile social networking with this offer. (tags: google) [...]

  24. Microsoft’s best move at this point would be to purchase Loopt. Loopt doesn’t have a Windows Mobile version, and it would probably be in their best interest not to create a WM version — strictly for business reasons.

    Why?
    1) Because Microsoft’s Live Search will be the next mobile mapping app that will allow you to track your friends.

    2) Microsoft desperately wants to get into this space.

    This obviously presents an opportunity for MSFT to buy Loopt.

    At this point, inter-compatibility between Loopt and Live Search would happen, and all those Windows Mobile phone users can tap into the world of social, geo-twittering, with search and soon to come geo-advertising.

    Other reasons:
    – There are a TON more hotmail users than gmail users out there.
    – Windows Mobile 6.5 is coming out (and 7 to soon follow) , and Live Search will be built in.
    – Loopt has a whole bunch of users, as Shari said here, and most of them are iPhone users. (Thanks to the presentation given at the iPhone developer/app store launch.)
    – Loopt has versions for all other phones, so MSFT could instantly gain users on these platforms

    Loopt should worry about their continued presence at this point, because GMaps is a preloaded app on the iPhone. So once Google updates their iPhone version, we now have two competing apps that do the same thing on the iPhone.

    Also, Loopt also works on Android, so we already do have two competing apps that have this capability on the same platform.

    I’m sure Android’s GMap app will weed out Loopt simply because it is Google’s OS, and GMaps comes preloaded, and in the same manner, Loopt will be weeded out of the iPhone. (It’s also preloaded.)

    But Loopt does have this in their favor: users.
    People won’t abandon Loopt initially because all their friends would have to do it at the same time.

    For this reason, Loopt just gained a lot of cash value buy the guys with cash. And for this reason, the obvious choice is someone with a lot of cash who wants to get into this space: Microsoft.

    If Microsoft doesn’t take the opportunity, then game over Microsoft for ever getting a stronghold into this space.

    Right now, Loopt has the users. Google has the advertisers. Both have a similar app.

    Now if Google were to buy Loopt and allow compatiblity between the network of users, then all major phones would be covered.

    So who will see the opportunity and purchase Loopt first? Microsoft or Google?

  25. Is LbS a platform or an application?

    Let’s take a look at a different example:
    My wife sends me a task to pick something up on the way. Since it’s on my way home. This task includes a location (store) and what and when day to pick it up.
    Now Murphy’s law dictates that when I had planned to do that, all hell brakes loose and I will be late and everything I should have done hours ago is wiped of my memory.
    Now wouldn’t it be nice if my phone still could remind me if I get in the proximity of the store I should have been hours ago ?
    What would we need for this to happen? A map, best with bookmark locations, associate location with things to do. Calendar info. A protocol to exchange all this effective. Desktop, phone, server applications to make this information available from any point and send to any point.
    What does the provider get, the best intend info there is. Better then search. Makes me wonder how smart Googley’s really are.
    In other words LbS should be a platform.

  26. Today I Made a Word | Going Like Sixty Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] Google has released Latitude for Google Maps. If you have a GPS phone, you can activate it and find out  if your parole officer is in the area, or your priest, or both, or they may be the same person. Father Dog the Bounty Hunter. [...]

  27. Google Latitude, The Beginning of the End | Kiwibloke Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] Not only is it possible to see your transactions at the local Cash Converters or Value Village, simply being in the vicinity of a Dollar Store makes you a credit risk. This ability will soon be available to any developer: [...]

  28. What Our Readers Say: Top Comment Picks Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] Jonathan in response to With Latitude, Google fires another salvo at mobile operators writes: “..interface design for LBSs are very difficult. everyone seems to emphasize the map, but thats very difficult to use pragmatically.” [...]

  29. What Our Readers Say: Top Comment Picks Thursday, February 5, 2009

    [...] Jonathan in response to With Latitude, Google fires another salvo at mobile operators writes: “..interface design for LBSs are very difficult. everyone seems to emphasize the map, but thats very difficult to use pragmatically.” [...]

  30. Andreas Borch Hansen Friday, February 6, 2009

    It’s interesting to see their take on mobile SNS after they lost the bid war on Zyb to Vodafone. Perhaps Latitude will actually kille Zyb.

  31. @ronald I believe that OmniFocus (both on the MAc and the iPhone) is nearly there with regards to what you require. Omnifocus has this concept of “context” that you associate with each task. And in the iPhone version, you can associate a context with a location, and then view your todo-list with regards to whenre you are presently (sorted by distance to tje location context).

  32. Verizon and Metro PCS will have to offer loopt free or not offer it at all. Google just made sure of that didn’t they?

  33. I commented earlier that “Microsoft’s best move at this point would be to purchase Loopt.”

    Let me continue that with this:

    Loopt’s best move at this point would be to pursue Microsoft.

    If I were the VCs at Sequoia Capital and New Enterprise Associates, I would be licking my chops right now. What Google has done with Google Latitude is create an enormous amount of “buy us out” value for Loopt.

    But why Microsoft?

    1) Well, Microsoft has the most money. For this reason, I wouldn’t pursue Google for a buy out.
    2) Microsoft wants to gain a solid footprint on search. And their eyes are set on taking that from Google.
    3) Microsoft has over a ba-gillion hotmail users, and this would create the largest social network ever. Compare the number of hotmail users and the number of mobile users, and don’t just focus on users in the U.S. This is true for the most part: Microsoft Windows user = Hotmail/Live user.
    4) Heck, Loopt is even based off of Microsoft’s ASP.NET and SQL Server technology, and also (the last time I checked), that map in the background is a Live Maps integration.
    5) Loopt doesn’t have a version for Windows Mobile, but they do for practically every other phone. Instead of writing an app for Windows Mobile, let Microsoft’s next version of Live Search for Mobile be compatible with the Loopt service.
    6) Instead of Microsoft writing an app for the Blackberry, iPhone, Android, and other platforms where Loopt already works, just buy them out and integrate.
    7) Every day that passes, Loopt loses value as more users switch to the integrated Google Latitude Maps for Mobile on both Android and the iPhone.

    It is for this reason, they should pursue a buyer, and now. Everything here sounds like everything that the VCs planned for; they just need to see it.

    Because this space is based on the world of free, value is calculated by users. With iPhones selling like hot cakes, and with Blackberrys and Androids gaining momentum while Windows Mobile users are still taking out their stylus (?), Microsoft should get back into the software business on the computers of the future, and the best way to get back into the software game at this point is to ACQUIRE. And what is the most powerful free app for users with the best ad-revenue potential? The social compass.
    It’s a match made in heaven.

    Welcome to the 1980s all over again. Microsoft having the most wanted app on an Apple OS.

    If I were Loopt, I would pull out my iPhone/Android phone and be calling big daddy Microsoft right now.

    @Shari: I want commission for spotting this. We should talk because what we are doing with MapKick could make you guys a lot of money…

    Let the LBS space race finally begin!

  34. Latitude, showing that location is a big deal at lifeinlists.com Saturday, February 7, 2009

    [...] GigaOm [...]

  35. Why Facebook’s Future Is Mobile Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    [...] I recently pointed out that “as we transition to an increasingly mobile world, the location beacon takes the role of the TCP, and most mobile services (and applications) find their context from this location beacon.” In this brave new world, the browser-centric method of “search, find and consume” is quaint at best. These superphones, driven by location beacon and live Internet connections, need to be able to display relevant data with a lot of serendipity. Google is hoping to achieve that by marrying location-based services and local data using a map as an interface. [...]

  36. Porque o futuro é móvel Facebook « Criação de SItes Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    [...] Eu recentemente assinalou que “como se a transição para um mundo cada vez mais móveis, a localização baliza toma o papel do TCP, ea maioria dos serviços móveis (e aplicações) encontrar o seu contexto a partir desta localização baliza.” Neste admirável mundo novo, o browser Centrado em método de “pesquisa, localizar e consumir” é, na melhor das hipóteses típicas. Estes superphones, impulsionado pela localização baliza e viver as ligações à Internet, precisam ser capazes de exibir os dados relevantes com um monte de serendipity. O Google está esperando para conseguir que, ao casar com serviços baseados em localização e dados locais usando um mapa como uma interface. [...]

  37. GigaOm explains why Facebook’s Future Is Mobile : Mobile Dummy Thursday, February 12, 2009

    [...] recently pointed out that “as we transition to an increasingly mobile world, the location beacon takes the role of the TCP, … is quaint at best. These superphones, driven by location beacon and live Internet connections, need [...]

  38. At what point does it become TMI? « ClairvoyInternet Thursday, February 19, 2009

    [...] •With Latitude, Google Fires Another Shot at Mobile Operators [...]

  39. Build a business, not a feature | Making sense of good and bad content Friday, February 27, 2009

    [...] of business.  Its “to do” list list is a direct threat to Remember the Milk and its Latitude product is a direct threat to Loopt.  Whether fair or not, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft [...]

  40. First Look: IRL Connect Brings Facebook and Twitter to Google Maps Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    [...] Google’s Latitude location service launched, one of the main problems users experienced was that the service only located users’ Google [...]

  41. LBS Startups to Keep on Your Map Tuesday, March 31, 2009

    [...] launched apps to platforms (there’s always a few platforms). We’ve all heard about Google’s Latitude and Loopt, but here’s a quick rundown of some of the other interesting LBS efforts out [...]

  42. Google Knows the Mobile Web Isn’t Only About Phones Friday, April 24, 2009

    [...] whites spaces, and by investments in satellite companies. This takes carriers out of the equation (neutering potential attempts to cut into Google’s ad-supported revenue streams) and gives the search giant a stake in a direct pipe to web [...]

  43. Google Knows the Mobile Web Isn’t Only About Phones | tech.shaundunne.com Friday, April 24, 2009

    [...] whites spaces, and by investments in satellite companies. This takes carriers out of the equation (neutering potential attempts to cut into Google’s ad-supported revenue streams) and gives the search giant a stake in a direct pipe to web [...]

  44. iPhone is Boosting Demand For Location-Based Services Monday, April 27, 2009

    [...] Skyhook was designed into the iPhone, Google folks took notice of Skyhook and started to develop their own competitive offering, which is being offered for free, while Skyhook charges for its offering. Morgan admits that the [...]

  45. Giving ourselves enough Latitude to hang ourselves with — Shooting at Bubbles Friday, June 5, 2009

    [...] In the first instance it isn’t like what Google has done is anything new which some folks quite rightly pointed out. It would seem to be another case of it’s because it’s Google doing it which is driving the [...]

  46. Google Google, is there a light at the end of your tunnel?

  47. Google Fires Another Shot at Carriers With Google Maps Navigation Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    [...] — and the navigation audience is sure to find an audience. Which is yet another reason partnering with Android is a double-edged sword for network [...]

  48. Official Google Latitude App Arrives in App Store: Apple « Monday, December 13, 2010

    [...] Google Latitude initially launched in February 2009, it seemed a pretty ideal candidate for the iPhone platform, but Apple apparently didn’t [...]

  49. Official Google Latitude App Arrives in App Store: Apple « Monday, December 13, 2010

    [...] Google Latitude initially launched in February 2009, it seemed a pretty ideal candidate for the iPhone platform, but Apple apparently didn’t [...]

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