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Mobilize: Location-Based Services, Forget the Starbucks Model

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Guess what, guys — the location-based mobile model of the coffee coupon getting pinged to your phone as you walk by Starbucks is tired. Location is all about adding relevancy to applications already being used. That was the contention of Mobilize’s LBS panel. Thank you, let’s retire that caffeine-fueled scenario.

GigaOM Mobilize conference -- Location-based services panel
GigaOM Mobilize conference -- Location-based services panel

But location is becoming more and more important as a way to make mobile applications richer — and more valuable. Steve Lee, Project Manager at Google, said Google’s mobile applications that are location-enabled can double their usage and Android’s SDK has location APIs for building location applications. The CEO of Skyhook, Ted Morgan, pointed out that most new devices will have some kind of location services enabled, whether it’s Wi-Fi, cellular or GPS. Lee Ott, Global Director of Yahoo oneSearch, said that location matters more as a tool for other services, but that location is here and real, and we should “keep the faith.”

GigaOM Mobilize conference -- Location-based services panel
GigaOM Mobilize conference -- Location-based services panel

However, the panelists also noted that we need to walk before we run. Most of the panelists said their mobile LBS services were generating revenues, but also that it’s still early days.

It always seems to be early days in mobile location — will we always be waiting?

8 Responses to “Mobilize: Location-Based Services, Forget the Starbucks Model”

  1. The Starbucks model isn’t tired – it hasn’t woken up yet! You need to know more about your target audience than their location to decide whether to issue coupons. To work and be sustainable coupons must be valuable enough to sway buying decisions and result in good ROI. Bombarding every passer-by with low value coupons is little more than spamming (and it’ll probably get you a few phones thrown through the window) but very selective high value coupons work.

    I can employ someone to stand on the street in front of a business and hand out vouchers, and they will be more effective than most mobile solutions. Why? Because they have eyes and ears. They will only give my coupons to people matching the descriptions I provide – 20-25yo, not in a hurry, in a mixed sex group of 3 or more and so on. When we have a mobile solution that can do likewise, plus match personal buying patterns, schedule, location/destination and cohort information we’ll be on a winner.

    There are a raft of location/calendar/social apps (eg. whereyougonnabe?) coming to market that will facilitate correlation of a number of these attributes.

  2. You might be interested in SeeMyWhere, a new tool for keeping in touch. With SeeMyWhere, your location is updated in real-time and displayed on a map that you can share with other people. As an example of its ground-breaking simplicity, go to On this page, you can see my location at this moment.

    I invite you to give it a try for yourself. Currently, you need a Blackberry to install the software but it will be running on other phones shortly.


  3. @Basil/Niraj,

    The key point is location relevancy. Location is not an application like many companies have assumed to date, location is a feature AND a design constraint. As the panelists noted, location in the context of the application is what matters. Other constraints in mobility include personalization, proximity information, relevant communications, relevant advertising (if contextually appropriate), etc. The feature set has boundaries set/implied by location where relevant. NOT the other way around. The mapping companies solved the location problem years ago, even on mobile devices.

    Hope this helps.

    Best regards,


  4. Agreed with Basil, that was my first thought as well. Maybe that example is tired, but as an advertising tool it would be effective.

    I think the explosion of mobile based services is still hampered by power consumption and/or inadequate battery power on mobile devices, as well as the time involved when using true GPS. That last point is also related to power though…if you try to save power by disconnecting GPS, you have to reacquire the next time you need location, and this takes a significant amount of time…enough to make it not worth the effort for small tasks.

  5. How can it be tired if nobody’s doing it yet? I’ve never gotten a coffee coupon just by walking around… if there are any startups doing this, they’re not doing a compelling enough job to convince me that there’s no room for a company like this.