Navigation apps drive LBS success

By Brian Dolan Mobile location-based services are starting to gain traction with consumers and operators. One example of a popular LBS application is Verizon Wireless’ BREW-based VZ Navigator, which allows subscribers to use audible turn-by-turn directions to find their way to any address. VZ Navigator can also direct users to some 14 million points of interest, landmarks, restaurants and ATMs. The core of VZ Navigator is its GPS positioning features, which tells users where they are and which points of interest are nearby. Because U.S. CDMA operators use GPS as their technology to support E911 initiatives, they have had a leg up on their GSM rivals who use a different type of technology that is not robust enough to support navigation services, says Sunit Lohtia, Autodesk’s chief technology officer of location-based services. In fact, Lohtia says the early success of U.S. CDMA operators with location-based applications encouraged the GSM operators in Europe to pursue similar apps. “Every operator in Europe is talking about personal navigation services, thanks to the growth in the services here in the U.S,” Lohtia said. Although the growth of LBS has been slow to come, it is not because of any technological issues. Drew Morin, TCS’ senior vice president and chief technology officer, says his company has been doing precise location-based tracking since 2001 for 911 purposes. The technology has been here for years, but it has not rolled out to the consumer and the enterprise until recently. Onboard devices propel mobile Lohtia explains that navigation has become the key application for mobile location-based services (LBS) for three reasons: the trust the general public has in directions from websites such as MapQuest and Google Maps; the rise of onboard navigation systems like those from Garmin and TomTom; and the fact that the mobile phone is inherently a better platform for LBS navigation services than onboard navigation systems. “Consumers are used to using those mapping web sites and also to using onboard navigation systems. But Garmin and Tom Tom’s devices are too heavy and cumbersome to take with you outside the car,” Lohtia says. “Attempts at separate devices from these companies that are mobile have proven too complicated for many users, anyway. The trick here was creating a personal navigation application that was so simple that the users would not have to go to Garmin or somebody else,” he says. Another huge weakness of the onboard systems is that street mapping data requires updating after a certain time. Onboard systems get around this by sending out CDs or by asking users to pay to upload new data. “A mobile phone-based service is hosted on the carrier’s network, so it’s updated in real-time,” Lohtia says. The next step for consumer navigation applications is to allow consumers to make their own maps, like Google has done online with its Google Maps mash-ups, Lohtia says. Autodesk stresses that developers need to make these personalized mapping applications extremely easy to use, however. Lohtia imagines that these apps will allow users to define their own landmarks, tag their own restaurant picks and make it easy for users to share their maps with friends. Enterprise interest While mobile-based LBS navigation services for consumers are already looking to the future, versions of these same applications are beginning to prove beneficial to the enterprise and small- and medium-sized businesses, too, according to Gearworks’ CEO Todd Krautkremer. Gearworks blended its SMB and enterprise product with the VZ Navigator by using the BREW platform. VZ Navigator is a customized version of Networks in Motion’s AtlasBook application, so their features are the same. Gearworks and Networks in Motion then leveraged the BREW platform to integrate the Networks in Motion-powered VZ Navigator into Gearworks’ own enterprise LBS application. “Our enterprise product, Field Force Manager, includes a BREW extension made by Networks in Motion that integrates their turn-by-turn app with Verizon’s VZ Navigator,” Krautkremer says. “If one of our customers is using our Field Force Manager application to locate one of their employees, once they get an address they can seamlessly move to the VZ Navigator application and find their way to that address. Our users have no idea that they have left our application and entered another, and BREW’s ability to build this composite application gives developers all sorts of abilities.” However, Krautkremer notes that the BREW ecosystem is largely built around a consumer model, which makes it somewhat difficult to port it to the enterprise. “The BREW ecosystem is great for facilitating a one-to-one relationship with my son, who is interested in downloading a mobile game, but not for a one-to-many relationship, which is what a business owner would need to deploy and update a LBS application for his mobile workers,” he says. Krautkremer says that it has been able to augment the one-to-many features in its products, even though they do not exist within BREW today. Some of the issues surrounding LBS Navigation applications will be addressed during the “Business Models for Successful LBS Applications” panel Thursday at 2:45 p.m.