You stand in front of a hotel. You point your cell phone at it. You click. The hotel's Web page appears on the device's screen. You check accommodations, prices, vacancies and inquire about special offers. Then you walk in or walk on.
That's right — the world will turn into the Web and clicking an icon on the screen of a desk-tethered PC will be passé. Clicking will become a matter of interacting with the environment, thanks to the advent of "location-based services" (LBS).
It's already a reality in Japan through the KDDI network there, using software from GeoVector Corp. in San Francisco. Pamela Kerwin, GeoVector's vice president of strategic development, explained that LBS requires that the phone has GPS circuitry, so it knows where it is. Additionally, it needs to have a compass so it knows where it is pointed.
The user points and clicks the LBS phone at the building in question, and the phone's application software accesses a database of map locations, determines what building or business the phone is pointed at and links to its Web site, Kerwin explained.
New wireless Internet
LBS is a major break between the standard old wired Internet and the brave new wireless one, says Jackie Fenn, analyst at the Gartner Inc. market research firm in Stanford, Conn. "Getting information to someone as he moves around in the physical world is not the same as the browser-driven behavior that has been the cornerstone of the wired Web. The wireless context involves getting information related to where you are and what you are trying to do," she said.
Indeed, Kerwin anticipates premium advertising opportunities (and premium revenues for her firm.) While some pundits foresee LBS as a barrage of spam ads sent to everyone passing near a business, Kerwin says the idea will be to ask those who have clicked on the location if they would like a coupon.
"If he has asked for a coupon, that makes him a highly qualified prospect, and we can charge a premium for that — that's our business model," she explained.
Beyond marketing, other uses that Kerwin foresees for LBS includes:
- Bookmarking your car — you point to your car and click the phone, and the phone tracks you as you walk away. Later, it can issue directions to lead you back.
- Point and call — you click your phone at a business. It accesses its phone number, then dials it.
- Lead me — you pick a building or business from a list. The phone knows where you are, and where the destination is, and directs you there.
Various networks in Europe and the United States now are experimenting with LBS, and Kerwin expects to see it being used more widely on American streets by the end of 2008.