Latitude finds lost purse.. world a slightly better place !


Not the handbag in question
Not the lost handbag !

OK to us Brits it’s a handbag, but this techcruch story is a interesting one both highlighting a technology story and a how old media deals with a technology story story ! A lady in silicon valley loses her bag, but because in it there is a phone which is running Latitude, it is tracked by her sister and recovered by the police.


A positive story about location tracking, yes but.. of course the concerns about the ability of third parties to track you location are quite rightly expressed here. I am not going to argue that this is not appropriate on the contrary I think as an industry we need to be very open about how this technology works, what information is stored, who gets access to it and how it might be used.

Ultimately location aware applications will take off in a big way, when their usefulness from the perspective of a potential user is greater than the difficulty to install and use them plus the loss of anonymity given up to use the system.

The ease of use element to this equation is improving though better user interface design and technology development, the issue of anonymity I argue needs openness from the technology companies and education. I think Google, Yahoo, Loopt, Brightkite, Foursquare etc. are doing a pretty good job in explaining how location aware applications work and have been explicit as to what information is stored and for how long.  

The “industry best practice” is there is such a thing, is to store just a users current location, in an anonymous fashion, only after the user has opted into the service and is reminded a regular intervals that they are using such a service. 

As part of the education process around location aware services, it is also important to be clear that already telecoms providers make the location of mobile devices available to the authorities when requested along with details of calls made, IP traffic etc., so some level of perspective is also useful.

The big challenge remains making compelling applications that prove to users that sharing their location with others is useful – Handbag hunting is a start..


Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

#Geomob just keeps growing

On Friday evening, I went along to the latest meeting of Geomob the developer community event created by Christopher Osborne focused on developments in what used to be called Location Based Services, but which now more sensibly people recognise as mobile applications of GEO technologies.

The key difference from the old days (2 years ago !!) of LBS, is that now the barrier to entry is much lower allowing the hacker community to really start to play and innovate without having to have huge resources behind them.

However despite technologies and services like Fire Eagle, Google Maps, OpenStreetMap/Cluodmade, there are still problems getting access to some types of information that would make mobile applications even more compelling, and yes I am talking about that old chestnut, access to public sector data sets.

The relevance of this to the community was demonstrated by the appreciation of the audience for the presentation given by Richard Allan of the Power of Information Task Force, who highlighted the well known issues with OS licensing practises.

2009-03-27 19.46.57.jpg

For me these problems are demonstrated perfectly by the example of the new iPhone application National Rail.

This is a wonderful application, that is really useful providing real time train timetable information, and making use of location technology to automatically identify the closest station to you, and give you the timetable for trains to take you home.. very useful on a Friday night believe me..


The only problem is the cost, £4.99 which is expensive for an iPhone application where most commercial application cost less than a pound.

Why should the application cost anything? after-all surely the role of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) is too make it easy for people to use the trains, not to sell software.

I have a similar application on my iPhone produced by British Airways that allows me to look up their timetable.. it is free.

ATOC may argue that there are development costs, etc in releasing an application like this, well the solution to that is straight forward, make he timetable information available free for the Geomob developers to download, sit back and watch what happens !

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

mashup* – Being Location Aware Event


I am going to be speaking at the  mashup* – Being-Location-Aware Event in London on the 19th March, an event which I hope will really capture the current excitement around using  location in both mobile and desktop applications.

After many false starts, your location is finally easily available to application developers allowing them to create a range of applications which use where you are, as a key element of context providing more relevant information and services to the user.

There are of course still many areas to be explored, around business models, technology platforms and privacy, and this event I’m sure will provide a great forum to continue the debate.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

The Location driver..

I have made the point a few times that for Geospatial services to belcome really mainstream, the ability to determine a users/devices location needs to be a standard function. The two latest mobile phone “operating systems” the iphone’s version of  MacOS and Android already have this, and we are seeing more and more location aware applications.

So it was no surprise that Microsoft announced last week that Windows 7 will also have a core location API, this is still a big deal as it has the potential of making location aware applications really commonplace at last, finally reducing the level of complexity for the developer to that of using a software driver.

I am concerned with some early reports as to the ability to control with enough granularity when  your location is made available, but hopefully that will imporve over the next year before the software is released.

All eyes then on Macworld in January, I would be surprised if we don’t know see a location API as a new feature of Snow Leopard

Written and submitted from the Google Office, London.

Wikitude : Practical Augmented Reality

Earlier this week I was talking to a group of travel journalists and demonstrated wikitude, one of the hottest applications available for the new Android powered G-1 phone. Wikitude uses the GPS, Digital Compass and camera on the G-1 to deliver one of the first really practical augmented reality applications, excellent for travel and tourism applications.

It was only a few years ago that I remember the efforts the Research team at the OS put into building a prototype of such a system to demonstrate the potential of such an interface although I don’t think my fellow directors really “got it” despite our efforts.

From the video below the potential of such an interface for displaying geospatial information is obvious.

Wikitube was another one of the Android developer challenge award winners, developed by Mobilizy a small team based in Austria who are themselves a validation of the open source approach to mobile development, a small team with a great development platform and user generated geodata content can create a truly innovative application.

Written and submitted from Vienna Airpot, using its free wifi network.