Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Location Aware iPhone

"First 30 years were just the beginning". This phrase could be seen at shortly before MacWorld. That sort of statement raises the expectations of what is to come. Now, did we see something earth-shattering at MacWorld?

Not really. The iPhone looks great and has some very innovative features, I seriously want one, but it seems it's mostly about doing the same old things – surf the web, email, call people, although it does so with considerable style and elegance.

(Image - Courtesy of Apple)

Isn't that good enough? Not if you set up the stage by saying "First 30 years were just the beginning." Then I expect something more than a phone.

Something big is missing from the picture.

There were a lot of things left out from the presentation at MacWorld – iWork 07, iLife 07 and Leopard. What is the common denominator here? They have all been rumored to feature GPS functionality or use geographic metadata.

The big thing missing is the Earth.

Why have Google Maps in the iPhone and not make it location aware? I think it already is. And if it isn't location aware, it will be. Or there will be a another version that is equipped with a GPS-chip. The iPhone is still only a working prototype. We haven't seen the final product yet.

But why didn't they say anything at all about GPS functionality at MacWorld? Why are they leaving out the whole juicy part of location awareness in Leopard and iLife including iPhoto, iWork, iCal, Address Book and possibly the iPhone?

Because they are saving it for a special event?

Someone might say:

- Hey! Wake up! What makes you think location awareness has to be an important part of the Google - Apple collaboration? It may have very little to do with location based services and geotagging. Google YouTube Video and Apple TV may be what it is all about.

Video from YouTube through Apple TV is not something revolutionary. It is something grainy and mildly entertaining.

- Couldn't it be the case that GPS-chips and location awareness was excluded to reduce costs and complexity of a mobile phone that is primarily aimed at capturing a large part of the market, and not intended to satisfy the tech-nerds of the world with functionality that isn't going to be used by most consumers?

That is entirely possible, but if so, I still would expect to see a GPS-equipped version of the iPhone introduced at a later stage.

(Image - Courtesy of Apple)

- Why? Is GPS functionality in a mobile phone really something that is going to be used by most consumers?

I'd like to think that the functionality resulting from position awareness is going to be heavily used - partly unobtrusively behind the scenes when searching and also for normal positioning and turn-by-turn directions. And it does not have to be difficult to use. There are a lot of navigation devices available that are easy to use. These functions can be easily accessible through a flick of a finger at a button in a search result listing or in an address book. Browsing location based information simply by walking around in the real world, is not going to be terribly complicated either.

Navigation and positioning is one of the most highly requested features in a mobile phone if you look at market polls of consumer wishes.

Google knows this, and they are happy about it because it fits beautifully with their mobile strategy:
"The second big category we are focusing on is location-based services. People take their cell phones with them everywhere, and they generally are looking for information in the context of a location." -- Deep Nishar, director of product management for Google. From CNet
There is going to be big money in location based advertising. Google interest in mobile advertisements is perfectly natural. Google wants to serve users with ads and sponsored search results that are well targeted to the user. They are already in a good position to do so, but expanding their presence into your location aware mobile phone is going to be huge for Google.

Google has already partnered with Orange (Google Phone) and Helio (the Drift) to crank out location aware phones with this in mind.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who is on Apple's Board of Directors, has even said that your mobile phone should be free and that it just makes sense that subsidies should increase as advertising rises on mobile phones.

What do we have?
  • Googles Orange phone: GPS, Location based services,
  • Google and Helio Mobile Phone: GPS, Location based services, Buddy Beacons
  • Google and Apple iPhone: No GPS, No Location based services?
Not very likely.

If you look for connections between some of the people working for Apple and Google, you will find Andy Rubin (co-founder of Danger) at Google, hard at work, you might assume, implementing Googles mobile strategy after selling his company Android to Google.

What Android is working on has been a well guarded secret, but Rubin shares his interest in location based applications of technology with Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak, who was on the Board of Directors at Danger.

In a 2003 interview with BusinessWeek, Rubin said there was tremendous potential in developing smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences. “If people are smart, that information starts getting aggregated into consumer products,” said Rubin.

Travis Geiselbrecht, working together with Rubin at Danger, can now be found working for Apple.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But I still have to say:

There is a reason for the geotagging support in iPhoto and links to Google maps.

There is a reason for not mentioning location awareness with regard to the iPhone in the presentation at MacWorld.

iWork 07 and iLife 07 were conspicuously absent for a reason.

The reason may very well be revealed later at a special event when all of this will be connected together. The true nature of the collaboration with Google will be revealed and it will become evident why Apple has been hard at work at implementing OS-level integration of geographical mapping technology in Leopard.

Google and Apple would not want the common enemy, Microsoft, to snatch the world away from them.

Did you notice that Steve Jobs called the iPhone a "magical" device that will "change the world" when it ships in June?

Why did he say "change the world"?


El-Visitador said...

Nice speculation; I like how you tied some loose ends there.

But Apple is also famous for not overreaching themselves. If the tech made the phone bulkier than their target size, or more expensive, or more thirsty, or whatever, Apple would be the company to known when to leave good enough already and leave such a function out.

Anonymous said...

I want one -- when it knows where I am on the Google map. I can do everything the iPhone does now with my mobile equipment. It ain't cool, but it works. GPS will put me over the drooling edge.

Anonymous said...

Umm - maybe the infomrmation I was reading was faulty. The live irc-cast I was reading reported that Steve said that the phone 'knows where you are.' It figured out that he was in Moscone center during the google maps demo. GPS wasn't mentioned specifically, but how else would it do that reliably?

Wednesday Keller said...

It's not GPS equipped as has been said by Pogue of the NYTimes. It is, however, location aware due to the E911 requirement in the United States. Accuracy is 150 meters or so.

John said...

Keller is right. E911 already allows location awareness, for the most part. My concern is that Apple won't release a program that allows this as soon as I'd like. I'm curious about how much of this information would (or could) be accessible for the web-browser to use (via web apps). If it *is* accessible, then Google will create it.

Anonymous said...

At the keynote address they showed the Apple Logo seemingly floating floating in space, the sun about to go up behind it. I wonder if this is something they have used on previous presentations or if this was something new. Maybe I am reading to much into this, but it sort of fits very nicely with this speculation...

Anonymous said...

very interesting, thanks

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