Like James, I’m hitting the road today for my cross-country trek to San Francisco for our Mobilize event. One of the most exciting aspects of this week is the opportunity for me to meet and chat with visionaries in the mobile space. As part of our event, I’ll get to introduce Ted Morgan, the founder and CEO of Skyhook Wireless. Ted will be one of several panelists for a discussion on location based systems. As the leader of a company that provides a unique, hybrid XPS location solution using Wi-Fi, GPS and cell-tower triangulation, I expect Ted will have plenty of great insights on the topic.
Before hitting the road, I had the chance to ask Ted a few questions on this hot space. Below is the transcript of Ted’s answers to my questions.
Kevin Tofel: Clearly, Skyhook Wireless is a leader in the LBS space due to its unique XPS. When did Skyhook Wireless figure out that location based systems would be the “next big thing?”
Ted Morgan: When we started Skyhook 6 years ago we felt very strongly that location was going to be a critical element of communications. Clearly a lot had to happen infrastructure-wise for the industry to be in a position to start taking advantage of location, but we felt the market was ultimately headed that way. With the introduction of smartphones and the new app stores, we are finally getting a chance for developers to deploy interesting location apps/services. And the early results of consumer interest/demand for the thousands of location based apps now available are fantastic proof points of our initial vision.
Kevin: Now that some browsers are adding geolocation solutions, what does that mean to Skyhook Wireless? It certainly validates the space, but is it complementary, competitive or something else?
Morgan: One of the principles we have had from the beginning of Skyhook was that location was not going to be limited to mobile devices like phones but would also play a big role in desktop/laptop devices and that local web browsing was going to be a core usage. We launched Loki in early 2006 as the first location enabled toolbar to bring location to every web site. We felt so strongly in the eventual usage of location within browsers that we spearheaded the industry standard for geolocation in browsers which was eventually taken over by the W3C. Support for that standard is now on the roadmaps for every single major web browser in the market. Some are using Skyhook (Safari, Opera), others are using alternative location services. Either way, the standard will help drive location enables web content and services which will dramatically expand the market for location. One of the most exciting times are Skyhook was when Google added a location button to their home search page for iPhone users. This was a capability we demo’d to Google 5 years ago and to see it finally come to fruition was a big step.
Kevin: Would you say that some mobile platforms are better suited to using the Skyhook Wireless solutions are the developer tools generally equal across the board?
Morgan: Which platforms are better? For Skyhook, any device that has Wi-Fi can be turned into a location aware device by adding our location software engine. But we spend a great deal of time with app developers and they clearly show a preference for the newer smartphone platforms like the iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Palm. Those platforms provide them much better flexibility, more open APIs, location and an overall better user experience. The iPhone dominates developer thinking right now but we expect developers to spread out to those other 3 platforms throughout this year as their app stores mature. Platforms like Symbian and Windows Mobile get very little developer attention and carrier driven platforms like BREW are rarely mentioned. We track all these deployments among location based app developers and distribute those reports quarterly.
Kevin: Are we just getting started LBS from a consumer standpoint? What kinds of location services are you expecting to see in the near future and longer term?
Morgan: We are very much in the early innings of location based services. The starting point was delayed for years by the control the carriers had on the market. But the new smartphone market breaks that logjam spurring an explosion of innovation that had been pent up for years. Granted these are all first generation ideas, but these developers are learning very quickly and consumers are showing a tremendous appetite to try out new ideas and to pay as well. Going forward innovations such as augmented reality and location based advertising will begin to become more commonplace. And the big area to monitor is social networking as twitter and facebook start incorporating location into their services.