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Summary:

For most of the first decade of the new century, we all waited for the emergence of location-based services. The LBS dream, it seemed, was always being deferred. Fast-forward to today — in 2010 we’ll see that mythical future become an actuality.

For most of the first decade of the new century, we all talked about the emergence of location-based services. These services, leveraging GPS chips, were going to revolutionize the world. I remember hearing numerous pitches that envisioned Starbucks offering coupons when you walked by the store. But the future, it seemed, was taking its own sweet time, with the LBS dream constantly being deferred. Fast-forward to today — thanks to new services such as Geodelic, Where and FourSquare, we’re beginning to see that mythical future become an actuality. (Related: our posts on Geodelic, Where)

If 2009 was the year when “geo” became a buzzword and gathered momentum, then 2010 is going to be the year when location-based functionality is going to become commonplace — from mobile apps to consumer devices, even to web services are all going to be geo-enabled. Like me, one man who has been patiently waiting for the future to arrive is Ted Morgan, chief executive of Skyhook Wireless, a Boston-based company that provides location-based service as an infrastructure. His company keeps close tabs on the location ecosystem. (Related: “The Dawning Age of Social Navigation“)

Last week when we were chatting about the industry, Morgan pointed out that he was “surprised how many people were talking about location.” That’s a polite way to say that location finally got buzzy. Or maybe that’s how it seems to me, given that I have been writing about location for nearly a decade. Morgan pointed out that slowly and surely, location has “become part of the mobile nervous system.” (Related: “State of Location Apps“)

Agreed! I think that’s why I’m confounded by some of the offerings of startups that have cropped up. Ask any of the mobile industry insiders and they all say that enhanced location and location-related APIs will become core offerings of major platforms — be it iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or the web. Twitter’s decision to buy Mixer Labs, parent company of GeoAPI, is one such example. (Related: “Who Will Foster the Great Location API?)

Today we “check in” to places, but soon it will become part of the platform, and when that happens we’ll shift focus to applications and services that build upon the concept of checking in. Imagine using the Flixster app in a movie theater, which automatically checks you in when you watch “Avatar” at the IMAX Theater in San Francisco and then offers a 140-character review. Or an UrbanSpoon app that automatically checks you in at the greasy spoon of your choice.

As Morgan explained — we’re going through a phase in the mobile ecosystem where folks are getting excited about location-specific applications. Eventually, all apps will have location-based functionality built in. For now, it seems all the industry is abuzz about apps such as RedLaser, Foursquare and SCVNGR. Investors are happily investing millions of dollars into location-based services such as Gowalla, Outside.in and Hot Potato. (Related: “Why I Love Foursquare” and “Hot Potato Turns Events Into Social Streams“)

Morgan, who in the past has been pretty prescient about location-based services, believes 2010 will see the emergence of two major trends that are going to gain traction in years to come:

  • Location-based ads will become mainstream as advertising and the mobile web become location-aware.
  • Brands will start to use location-based apps to drive sales and marketing efforts.

These two topics were hotly discussed at our Mobilize 09 conference in September. We’ll be keeping you posted about location-related developments as the year unfolds. Both Liz and I are ramping up our coverage of location and mobile apps. If you want to chat with us, drop either one of us an email: om + tips at gigaom dot com or liz + tips at gigaom dot com.

Paris Aerial View: Photo Courtesy of Naserversiontwo via Flickr.

Related from GigaOM Pro:

Free company profiles/analysisAppleGoogleHTCNokia
For GigaOM Pro subscribers: “Surveying the Mobile App Landscape” (Subscribe to GigaOM Pro for $79 a year.)

  1. Om, great post but how could you miss this? http://bit.ly/8LWTKQ

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    1. I am not sure it was intentional. Sometimes when writing, things just happen and you go with the flow. Appreciate the reminder.

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  2. Great post. Given us all a lot to think about. I suspect the first company who decides collect user location data, repackage it and sell it to businesses will become very, very rich indeed. There’s quite a lot of data generated when you start putting users in context of their location that isn’t being used optimally.

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    1. Matt,

      I don’t know in what sphere of LBS/LBA you operate but take a look at http://sites.google.com/site/en1gmaengine/

      I’d be interested in your comments.

      Mark C

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  3. I wrote a post recently about the Gowalla/Incase partnership, and in it, I predicted that location-based social networks will be THE space to watch in 2010: http://thefutureofads.com/gowalla-and-incase-team-up-for-location-based-sponsorship

    As Gowalla and Foursquare have shown, the checking-in aspect of services like Twitter can easily be turned into a game that adds to the overall experience, and with a few easy tweaks, they can advertise alongside that experience in a non-intrusive way that actually adds to a user’s enjoyment of the service. Add to that the futurist’s dream of geo-located coupons and hyper-advanced loyalty rewards programs, and it’s easy to see why LBS will be a hot topic in the coming year.

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    1. Cory,

      Excellent points. Geo-located coupons will really take off this year. Also interesting are apps built on top of services like Foursquare, i.e., photocheck.in….

      We will be discussing the opportunities and challenges in the geo-loc space (Geo-Loco!) next month during Social Media Week. Discounts for Foursquare super users.

      http://geo-loco.eventbrite.com

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  4. Great post Om. Location has become a fascinating space to track – though for 2010 to become its year I’d like to see deeper usefulness and true monetization. I recently discussed this at http://digitalpopuli.com/social-gaming/the-rise-and-growth-of-social-location-applications/ – would love your thoughts.

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  5. I think that 2010 will be a transformational year for Location Based Services, as they move from a history of niche activities into a widespread web trend. A lot of the smaller companies will evolve from experiments into businesses.

    You should also see large experimental budgets on the advertising side. This will be accompanied by a significant evolution in the advertising technologies which will begin to treat location not just as a DMA, but as one of the key contextual variables for a mobile user.

    That said, if pressed to answer the question, I’d have to say “No”. In 2010 the iPhone/Android type of device, that really shines on location/Web 2.0 interactivity, will remain a minority market segment. Unlike some web based phenomenon such as Twitter/Facebook that spread like wild fire, the new location services are handicapped by their inability to reach the majority of people.

    This should be remedied by 2011, the year in which I think we will see location revolutionize the web. By then, the data networks will be much faster and reliable again (LTE/HSDPA). Location technologies including network assisted GPS and enhanced wifi-tri (google/skyhook) and possibly pressure sensors (for elevation) will start to really accurately pinpoint your device.

    With this infrastructure, locational awareness and pervasive mobile broadband will allow a fundamental and profound conflation of the internet and physical reality.

    Together this will affect the web in a manner that will combine the consumer impact of Social Networking (i.e. facebook) and the business impact of online CRM (i.e. Salesforce).

    I think that’ll be the year of location, and it’s not far off. I expect it’s going to be really fun watching what happens in the market this year on the way there.

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  6. [...] GigaOM: Will 2010 Finally be the Year of Location? [...]

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  7. Great post Om.

    It’s not on anyone’s radar yet but what immediately excites me about mobile is using it to get real time ‘As you pass it’ Ad campaign feedback.

    I have this image of a market research respondent sitting on a bus and getting a text as the pass a billboard and being asked what they think of the context, message, visual etc of the ad. That would be valuable data for sure.

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  8. [...] not convinced?  This post, from Om Malik, came out whilst I was updating my own and is well worth a [...]

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  9. First off, when are you going to get disqus as a commenting option on this blog?

    Having played with almost all of the services you have listed here, I completely agree with the direction you’re describing. I think what will really kick this off is when the “checking-in” and geo-awareness starts happening automatically. So for ex, I tell Foursquare that anytime I’m in a specific GPS location, it should check me in to Chick-fil-A. Right now the manual process of doing this takes a few minutes and until it becomes more automated it will detract most people.

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  10. [...] Related from GigaOM Pro: Free company profiles/analysis: Apple, Google, HTC, Nokia For GigaOM Pro subscribers: “Surveying the Mobile App Landscape” (Subscribe to GigaOM Pro for $79 a year.) via gigaom.com [...]

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