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Location Based Service

In the beginning of 2009 we placed our bet on Twitter as the up and coming new trend for the year. One year later and guess what – it’s still booming (actually it might be a little stagnant at the moment, but nonetheless, still showing impressive numbers). It’s time we do the same for this year – and I’ll put my money in Location Based Services using Augmented Reality.
First things first – what is a Location Based Service? LBS are services that use the mobile phone’s location via GPS to exactly pin point the users’ location. Through this information you can basically direct your communication in the most relevant way for the consumer.
The perfect example for recent LBS is the recently implemented upgrade for the Google Mobile Search Engine that allows users to give permission to Google to access the phone’s location and give them search results related to their coordinates. For example – you’re in Lisbon. If Google knows this and you start writing “museum”, you will get results related to Museums in Lisbon. This is genius while still being very simple.
The fact is that LBS aren’t new news – they’ve been around since 2001 but like almost every technology during the 2000 decade, it hasn’t been explored to its full potential. And with the advancements in Mobile Phone technology, practically ever phone comes with the necessary technology to further enhance the user of these services.
With Augmented Reality this has become a lot more interesting. Augmented Reality, as you might know, overcomes real image you obtain over your camera (like your mobile phone camera) and overlays it with a information layer that adds contents to what you are seeing. And using LBS only sweetens the experience.
Take two examples in consideration. The first one is Layar. Available for Android and App Stores, Layar adds a layer to you phone camera based on the service that is most relevant for you at the time. The service you can pick varies on the country you are in, as service providers vary. One example that is quite spread out in every country the app is available is Wikipedia.
Imagine you are walking around in Rome. You have no idea what to see or where things are. Sure, you can use a Map, but you are still confused on what is what. You simply grab your IPhone or Android Phone and access Layar. Layar will pinpoint your location via GPS and ask you what service to use. You pick Wikipedia. If you now aim your camera in 360º degrees, you’ll have an arrow pointing out to the monuments around you and with a small subtitle saying what it is and relating to an article on Wikipedia about it. Pretty useful, if you ask me.
Layar is already quite well known, but our next example isn’t – Google Goggles. While using the exact same mechanics of Layar (Pinpointing your location and giving you relevant content) the way it does is a lot less limited – as it doesn’t require you to use a service provider but Google itself.
So imagine you are walking around a supermarket. You get a phone call – “We need wine for dinner – and make it a good one!”. You go to the wine section and find one you think was well reviewed by a friend. With Google Goggles you simply open the application and take a picture of the wine. Using an image recognition technology via Augmented Reality, Google will match the picture with its own image database and give you back the results – be it wine reviews, the brand website, etc… This can be applied to buildings, clothes and even famous paintings. Sure, it’s still very beta, but its potential cannot be ignored.
So my bet for this year will rely on LBS using Augmented Reality. The potential for brands impacting their consumers where they need the most – outside where all the noise is – is huge. Imagine this – a brand places a product poster with an indication for the consumer to take a picture to know more about it. Depending on where the picture is taken, you can give feedback to the consumer and direct him to the nearest store to see the product while giving him a digital voucher for the purchase. You can also create scavenger hunt-like activations using a whole Mupi network. And these are just very basic off-the-head applications to it.
Some might say that it is still early to consider this technology as mainstream. And I agree. But consider mobile phone releases and the rotation associated with this type of product and we’ll all agree that phones with these capacities are quickly spreading. Now it’s up to the brand – will they be the pioneers or will they be the followers. It’s all up to their strategy, of course.

Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend Web2.0 Expo Europe 2008 in Berlin. There, I met Gen Miyazawa and Ren Ando, of Cirius Technologies, Inc. – a thriving location-based mobile advertising company based in Tokyo. I attended their presentation, “Location-based Mobile Ad: A Lesson From Japan” which had a huge impact on me. Why? Because living in a western, ultra-connected and digital world, we tend to assume we are the real pioneers. Well… the truth is after Gen and Ren’s lesson, I’ll always look East before assuming anything of the sort.

The picture they presented sounded like a forecast of the Future in 10 years time… However it is Japan’s reality, right now. So here are the figures:

- 90% of the subscribers use the mobile web;
- 90% will be on 3G by the end 2008;
- At the Present, almost 1/2 are GPS enabled phones;
- The Mobile commerce market has hit 10B USD*

It is predictable that TV watching (w/ digital TV tuner) and video sharing will soon become a top mobile entertainment. You Tube on mobile and Nico Nico Video Sharing are already becoming a clear trend.

IC wallets are being integrated with mobile phones by default. This mobile electronic payment method already has 28.5 million subscribers (as of Mar 31, 2008) and is accepted in Public transportations, supermarkets and vending machines.

So why did this market grow so rapidly in Japan?
A combination of broad coverage of 3G network, flat-rate data plans and a bigger influence of the operators upon mobile ecosystem than in GSM markets did the trick. Read More »