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Facebook to Roll out Location App

February 13, 2013  - By
Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy

There always is a lull in news between the Consumer Electronics Show and the Mobile World Congress, which is later this month in Barcelona. However, published reports that Facebook plans to launch a location application is big news. The social network giant, with more than 1 billion mobile users worldwide, could conceivably generate huge advertising revenue through the location-based friend-finder app. Facebook has a number of competitors, but with the sheer number of worldwide users, it has to make the industry take strong notice.

Facebook to Roll Out Location Application for Mobile Users

Facebook is attempting to grab a big piece of the mobile location market with a new app that will track users to perhaps boost mobile advertising sales.  The news, first reported by Bloomberg, indicates that Facebook is adding location features to perhaps take a chunk of profit from 1 billion mobile users who use the social network.

The new feature, expected to be launched in March, will work with smartphones, even when the user is not using the application, according to the Bloomberg article.  This may raise some privacy hackles, as competing services have opt-in functions. In addition, some handset manufacturers and carriers require user opt-in as part of privacy agreements.

Facebook already purchased two location companies in Glancee and Gowalla. Glancee is a location-tracking startup Facebook bought in May 2012. Gowalla, a location-based social network, was purchased in December 2011.

Facebook Has Competitors in Location Market

The new Facebook location app will be an answer to Google Latitude, which was launched in early 2009. Latitude, a feature for Google Maps, is an opt-in mobile app that allows users to see the location of friends and family, who also allow the service to track them. Google’s premise, four years ago when it launched Latitude, was that many users wonder where their friends and family are — and what they are doing.

Because it is an opt-in service, Google said users could find out where a spouse was stuck in traffic on the way home from work, knowing when a loved one’s flight landed safely, or if a buddy was in town. Although it has been around for more than four years, Latitude was innovative with the concept that not only can you see friends on a map, but you can get in touch with them via SMS, Google Talk, gmail and  updating a status message.

“While Google quietly improved its databases, tools and location services, most other players in the location industry were slipping further behind, apparently involved in a frenzy of disorganization prompted by a lack of skills in strategic planning,” said Mike Dobson, Telemapics president, in a recent interview.

Another similar service, Find My Friends from Apple, runs on the iOS 5 operating system.  It is another location share service that attempts to allow users to find friends in real time, according to published reports.

Apple needs to hit a home run in the location and mapping market. Last year, the controversy surrounding Apple Maps caused a shake up at the company and industry because of faulty map data. The incident made manufacturers realize that digital maps are a very important feature for smartphones. It also made many of these giant companies, who believe that location isn’t that big of a deal, sober up to the fact it is hard to make quality maps.

A number of other companies are offering friend and family finder apps, namely Location Labs, Life360 and Loopt.

Still, while such companies as Facebook, Apple and Google give away maps and navigation for free, which destroyed smaller companies and caused a huge consolidation of the industry starting in 2008, some believe that maps are too hard to produce for free. Some analysts, Dobson included, think that “free” maps and navigation services may not stay that way as consumers and enterprise customers demand better accuracy.

Tablet Owners Spend More than Smartphone Buyers

In advance of the Consumer Electronics Show, analysts were saying not only that flatscreen TVs sales were dropping, but the champion of the previous shows, the tablet, also was to see a downward trend. Not so, says ABI Research, which estimates nearly 200 million tablets shipped worldwide since 2009, with an additional 1 billion tablets forecast to ship over the next 5 years.

What’s interesting, or not, depending on your location company’s strategy, is that ABI says 22 percent of users spend $50 or more per month and 9 percent spend $100 or more on purchases ordered from their tablets. That’s higher amounts than from even smartphones, the company says.

As we reported last fall, the next edition of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet introduced mapping services in partnership with Nokia, which snubbed technology from Google, which is funny because its mobile operating system powers the platform. But it was an indicator of how much promise companies are still seeing in adding location-based services capability to tablets.

In other LBS news:

  • Sense Networks released the results of a location-based mobile advertising campaign for Denver-based fast food chain Quiznos. The campaign, conducted in Portland, Oregon, placed ads on mobile devices of people 18-34, who eat at competing, and similar, restaurants such as Subway. The company said Quiznos had a 20 percent gain in coupon redemptions.
  • TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. (TCS) is providing map, local search, location services and navigation applications for the new BlackBerry 10 smartphone. The TCS-based mapping application will ship with the new smartphones, which are scheduled to roll out in mid-March. TCS’ APIs are also available for Blackberry 10 developers. This leads many in the industry to believe that if this smartphone is a much-needed home run for Research in Motion, the TCS partnership could be a big deal.
  • Locaid plans to provide GTECH with secure mobile location, IP location and other LBS to include geofencing and location authentication. What’s cool about this deal is GTECH designs and sells lottery technology. Its service includes a geo-complaince engine that ensures a mobile or Internet-connected device is within state lines.

If you have news, or tips, or gossip, please contact me at  The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is coming up this month, so get me your story ideas and product news.


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