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Summary:

A patent filed by Qualcomm suggests that location could be tied to a module that you could use with whatever device you want. That means location on your phone, iPod or netbook whenever you bother to insert the module. But apps makers are skeptical.

Qualcomm is trying to patent a removable module for devices that would contain all of your location information and allow you to share it across gadgets (hat tip GoRumors). Instead of your phone or laptop knowing where you are at all times, you plug in a module when you want to share your whereabouts. Now, this is just a patent application, so it’s not clear if anyone at Qualcomm wants to build this thing, and I’m not sure it should.

At first I thought the module might do for location what the Kindle has done for electronic readers or what the iPod did for stand-alone music devices — basically act as a single-purpose device for providing location and applications that could use it. Here’s the description:

The removable module may store subscription information, personal information, and/or other information for a user and may be inserted into a terminal, e.g., a cellular phone. The removable module may include LBS applications that may utilize location information to perform various actions. The location information may comprise a location estimate, speed, orientation, etc., of the terminal.

In other words, my location would become an accessory that I could plug in when I elect to share with people where I am and what I’m doing, rather than something tied to a particular device with complicated steps for turning location sharing on and off. Plus, I could use a variety of location apps that work with the module rather than applications that work with a specific phone.

Since the device would have my location as well as my location-using applications, I checked with some developers and those in the industry to see how something like this would play out. Rahul Sonnad, CEO of Geodelic, which makes the Sherpa application, said that most of the functionality Qualcomm seems to have developed with this module is already available as part of various web-connected platforms like Facebook Connect. He added, “I’m sure I would lose this module, and my location would be lost with it. And then where would I be?”

Without a location module, many of us might not know. All kidding aside, Sonnad’s point about already having the functionality is the key here. Sonnad as well as Ted Morgan, the CEO of Skyhook, which provides a Wi-Fi database to determine a user’s location, think that thanks to Apple, Google and other platforms already offering location services on myriad devices and shared between a variety of web-based technologies, the opportunity ship has sailed. And it’s sailed without Qualcomm. What do you guys think?

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user Chokola. Diagram image courtesy of GoRumors.

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  1. Santhosh Cheeniyil Monday, January 11, 2010

    Shouldn’t this function reside in software, with an enable/disable switch that would allow you to turn on/off location transmission? Firefox has it; Twitter has it…

    Why would you want a hardware accessory for location tracking? Don’t we have enough appendages already?

  2. I agree that software is a better solution to location. With the devices becoming incredibly cheap, why I would want a separate object is beyond me. As with internet connections, things are just going to do this stuff. A general purpose sensor pack the size of an ant probably isn’t too far down the road.

    My bet is that people tire of turning on and off all of this stuff, and ditch the services that require too much mental overhead. Facebook is fine today… but.

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