Finding the future of navigation and LBS

The wireless industry seems always keen for the next new, hot thing, whether it's mobile TV, touchscreens or Qwerty keyboards. Location-based services and navigation applications certainly fall into this category. I recently looked at the state of location-based services in this in-depth feature. One of the main conclusions I came up with is that, right now, a lot of the potential applications are just that: potential.

Turn-by-turn premium navigation services and partnerships between wireless carriers and big-name vendors like Networks In Motion and TeleNav dominate the space. Yet even with carrier backing, LBS has not yet caught on with the vast majority of cell phone-toting consumers.

"We haven't reached critical mass by any stretch of the imagination," Dale Beasley, Verizon Wireless' LBS and VZ Navigator product manager, told me.

Most of the companies and analysts I spoke with agreed that some kind of mapping application will become standard on phones--just like cameras are today--but for the time being it remains a bit of a minor league item.

That said, there's plenty of action on the front. Will navigation apps remain paid-for items, or will they eventually fall into a free tier of service? Will third parties break out from a largely carrier-controlled market, or will operator-branded services remain the primary go-to for most LBS users? And will location information become an essential part of social networking services?

As GPS gets installed into more phones, carriers, vendors and application developers will be forced to answer these questions. Feel free to read the feature and let me know how you think it will play out. --Phil