In a world where GPS enabled smartphones are as passe as intermittent wipers on cars and coffee makers with clocks in them, it’s neat to read some exciting new location based technology news. It’s inevitable that phones would begin to launch with alternative location infrastructures than GPS, but I have to say I’m slightly shocked it was this early. Obviously the phone is only available in Russia for now, but there’s nothing inherent to say US phones couldn’t start supporting the system in the future, although that’s highly unlikely anytime soon. What will be interesting is when Europe gets their Galileo system up and running and China gets their Compass system as well. I wouldn’t be shocked to see tri-band phones that support more than just GPS coming in our future.
For all of you out there who use Gowalla as your mobile location-based social sharing app, you’ll want to check out the new partnership between NASA and Gowalla that includes a fun virtual scavenger hunt called “Search for Moon Rocks.” Any time you visit a museum, science center, or planetarium that has a real moon rock on display, you can check in and get a virtual moon rock for your Gowalla account. Since NASA astronauts successfully brought lunar samples back to Earth during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 missions, there are plenty of places where you can find them. To help you out, NASA has posted a fun map visualization of the places where you can find lunar samples on display.
The NASA-Gowalla partnership also allows users to collect 3 other virtual items – a NASA patch, a spacesuit, and a space shuttle – when they check in at NASA visitor centers and other museums and facilities that are part of the NASA Museum Alliance. And, as if that weren’t exciting enough, the 100 Gowalla users to collect 3 out of the 4 NASA patches will receive a copy of the Search for the Moon Rocks map in the mail!
Mashable (perhaps one of the cooler sites I visit each day) has a nifty story about an artist who drew Google Maps icons as if they existed in the real world. It’s rather interesting to think about these big push pins existing in real life, or a pop-up box over a building. Take away the surprised looking people and I think we’ll have a pretty good idea of what large scale augmented reality is likely to look in the near future.
In order to investigate the idea of a social archipelago, the notion that our cities are “fragmented islands of social activity separated by large areas dedicated to commercial workplaces, flows of vehicles, residential sprawl or industrial sites.” Anil Bawa Cavia analyzed more than a million Foursquare check-ins in a number of cities and mapped those data as points to create a series of social activity density maps, which he calls urbagrams. By looking at the resulting maps for cities such as New York, Paris, and London, we can get a picture of the spatial distribution of social activity through Foursquare, and see where social activity is clustered and how the patterns differ from city to city.
Alright, I admit I stretched a bit for that headline. However, the important bit is that Facebook has now added Places to it’s features. Places allow you to tag where you’re at when you post status updates. On the benign side of the coin (that’s the Harvey Dent one for you DC nerds reading), this will allow a richer connection between people’s status and their location. You’ll be able to start getting a good feel for what places drive your friend’s positive or negative status. There’s an associated iPhone update their iPhone app that automatically tags your location, should you opt into using Places. Otherwise, you can ‘tag’ your location manually if your phone does not support LBS. On the malignant side of the coin (Two Face side), this raises a whole host of privacy concerns. Cyberstalking isn’t anything new, but the ‘scale’ of the problem given the popularity of Facebook just got a whole lot worse, I think. On top of that, make sure you’re not updating Facebook status during ‘work’ time when you’re actually at the local watering hole. Your boss might be able to find that information out and use it against you. We already have plenty of reports of companies using Facebook updates and information against employees. Take the warnings of Google’s boss Eric Schmidt – be careful what you put on the Internet! You don’t want to have to change your name every couple dozen years to cover up past online sins.
Assuming you don’t live in a metal box that’s trapped under a heavy rock buried far, far into the Earth’s surface, you should be aware Apple is launching a new phone in the next day or so. Part of that is the role out of a new iPhone OS – OS 4. It’s available for most of the current iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch devices already and can be downloaded as of… well, now. However, what you might not be aware is if you install the OS, you’re agreeing to allow Apple to collect anonymous location information about you. The information is supposed to be used to help make their location services better, as well as to sell to location providers to do the same. The information is collected in near real-time and there’s literally no way to opt out (other than the obvious opt out of not using one). Think you’re safe with Android? Think again. Google has been collection location information (sometimes not so anonymously because it includes your phone number) for a long time.
To me, this represents one of the great potential downsides to the mobile phone market. There’s a lot of value in information about you and companies will most likely be fairly aggressive to collect the information. There isn’t really a functional way to opt out of these systems without grossly crippling your phone. We hope that phone carriers and phone manufacturers use this information responsibly and protect the rights of their customers. Unfortunately there’s a long history of corporations NOT being so responsible with customer information, despite intentions to the contrary. For me, the take away from this change in the iPhone’s terms of service is that we, as consumers, need to more aware of the value of our information, and take as many steps as possible to protect that information. That being said, if I had AT&T, I would be second in line (behind Jesse, most likely) to grab the new iPhone. So it’s hard to practice what I preach at the end of the day.
If you read pvponline.com (a great webcomic, by the way), you’ll recall a story line where a character uses a fictional Foursquare like service to become the mayor of a coffee shop. In the comic, this entitles him to discounts on coffee. In a strange twist of life imitating art, Starbucks is now providing discounts to actual Foursquare mayors of various Starbucks across the land. This is a pretty cool blending of the virtual space with the actual space and starts to highlight a lot of the promise of Location Based Services. It turns it all into a sort of ‘meta game’ and I, for one, find it utterly fascinating (not least of all because I find PVP hilarious!) I think you’ll begin to see more and more of these sorts of blurring between the real world and the virtual world.
A couple of days ago, Tim O’Reilly published an interesting piece entitled “The State of the Internet Operating System” I’m not going to say a whole lot about it, other than to say it touched on a lot of areas. He talked about mobile, location based services, platform integration, abstractions, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s an interesting read and I find myself mulling it over more than most other things I read in the tech world. Give it a read. I think it has a lot of applicability in the light of some of the transitions we’re seeing in the geospatial world.
There is another GIS app in the US iTunes store. iGGIS is a an app for the Netherlands that seems to be a GIS without a map, using your location to grab local textual information. Translated from iTunes:
Do you find it so difficult to find information about a town? iGGIS is a smartphone application that makes it easier for you in the municipal Web information. Through its simple interface you quickly find the information you are looking for. IGGIS The name stands for “interactive Municipal Geographic Information System”. The app is in an interactive manner, based on geographic coordinates, community information display. The application is accessible in all 431 municipalities of the Netherlands (rural area).
If you are in the Netherlands check it out and let us know what you think of the app in the comments.