Friday, 20 February 2009

The Potential of Latitude

In case you're not aware, Google have launched a new product - Latitude - which falls firmly into the 'building block' category of services. The core product lets you share you location (updated manually or via a google maps application) with select Google contacts.

An interesting feature of the Google Maps application is that it will stay resident on your device, updating your location in real time. Scary stalking and surveillance opportunities aside, the general idea is that you can see which of your contacts are near to you now.

I mentioned in my 10 predictions for 2009 that I think location will be important this year and Latitude is a good indicator that net access on the move will be a key area for service development. The current application doesn't really catch the imagination but the combination with Twitter-like services (and, of course, a level of ambiguity about where exactly you are) provides some really interesting possibilities.

One thing that really struck me when playing with Latitude is the huge impact automatic updating makes - suddenly the service goes from a point of interest to a useful way of seeing who's actually nearby right now.

Leading on from this, I realised the impact that having Latitude on might have on your mobile phone bill - and how important unlimited (or virtually unlimited) data plans will be for these kind of services. At the moment networks charge astronomic amounts for very low levels of data use (Orange charges me from £4 for 4MB up to £88.13(!) for a gigabyte).

Ubiquitous computing requires not only a high level of connectivity (through whatever available means) but also a low enough cost threshold for entry. The iPhone's £30/month for 'unlimited' data is a pretty good start but, until most plans provide this kind of feature, services like Latitude will never reach their full potential.

And of course, as soon as a proper Mobile Broadband service that can compete with ADSL (at least for those for whom web surfing is the key usage) is available then we may well see the death of the traditional Home phone line...

No comments: