This article has been updated to reflect Apple’s approval of Map the Spill for the App Store, which came through one day after the article was published.
The use of location in mobile apps has been popping up everywhere from Loopt to Groupon, and Trimble Outdoors, the software arm of GPS device maker Trimble, has its finger on the pulse of location-based technologies. Trimble Outdoor’s parent company has been in the GPS business since 1978 and has watched location become an ever-growing part of the app landscape.
“Location is prevalent in almost every smartphone and is in a good portion of the feature phones on carrier’s decks. It’s going to become a core enabler to a variety of different experiences,” says Larry Fox, director of business development for Trimble Outdoors. “We’re at location 1.0 when it comes to the Loopt kind of product.”
Trimble Outdoors has five location-based apps on the market, most of which are targeted at outdoor sports and geocaching. The company recently expanded beyond the recreation market with the launch of an application tracking the impact of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which has poured millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf since the disaster began in April.
Map the Spill allows users to record and catalogue the unfolding environmental catastrophe along the Gulf coast with photos, descriptions and accurate data about where the information was collected. The information is aggregated on the app’s dedicated website, where it is available for viewing by the public.
Since its launch three weeks ago, the company began working with the Alabama Coastal Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, whose volunteers are using the app to record evidence of the spill. The app is currently available for Apple, Android and BlackBerry users.
Fox declined to provide exact usage statistics for the app but said the amount of data being collected on the app is “definitely increasing,” from reports of tar balls and dead fish washing ashore to pictures of oil booms deployed along the coast. “Someone can simply walk along the beach, take pictures and record the information,” Fox says.
Since the company first teamed up with Nextel in 2004, Trimble Outdoors has witnessed the industry move from app basics like turn-by-turn navigation to social media, travel, mobile commerce and more.
The use of subscriber’s location to send out targeted advertisements has been a long-awaited development in the location-based services market and Fox is optimistic that location-based advertising will find its niche.
“It’s a targeting mechanism,” Fox says. “If you have information about what people are doing and where they’re doing it, you can more effectively target ads. This allows a higher degree of targeting and a potentially higher degree of value to customers.”
ABI Research analyst Mark Beccue has reservations about location-based advertising, especially non-solicited messaging. “People just won’t put up with it,” he says. “Location is going to be used on a permission-based, use-by-use basis. I have a hard time imagining you’ll give Coke a lifetime permission to access your location.”
Still, that doesn’t mean location is out of the mobile commerce space altogether. There’s been a proliferation of location-based shopping apps ranging from Groupon’s local deals to ShopSavvy, which allows users to scan barcodes to find the best prices for online and local items.
As apps like Foursquare and Gowalla continue to gain traction in the marketplace, location is quickly becoming an integral part of the application landscape.
“In most cases, it makes perfect sense to use location data,” Beccue says. “It’s a unique piece to mobile in that you can make such a personalized recommendation that can be used in so many different ways.”
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