One thousand people in your pocket...
Published: Friday 18 May 2007
Finding friends and meeting new ones could become even more important uses for global-positioning chips than getting from A to B as the technology spreads to mobile phones in coming years.
Combined with mobile internet access, GPS is seen in the industry as adding a new dimension to social networking that could also have implications for the media business.
Miles Flint, president of mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, said: "GPS tells me that today, I'm sitting somewhere at 48 degrees north, 2 degrees east. Is that really that much value, if I know I'm sitting in Paris?"
But he sees that notion changing. "One of the more compelling things that we might use every day is the integration of that information into knowing where my friends are," he told the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in Paris this week.
GPS chips use satellites orbiting Earth to determine the exact position of the user. They are found in car navigation systems, which have surged in popularity in recent years, and the technology is now making the jump to mobile phones.
Once people can physically find friends and family members - as long as they want to be found - it can enhance the establishment of growing internet social networks such as News Corp's MySpace.com.
Nokia chief executive, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, said earlier this month at a shareholders meeting: "'Your community's in your pocket.' I think that explains where we're headed quite well."
Industry executives still disagree over how quickly satellite navigation will find its way into phones.
The chief executive of chipmaker CSR, John Scarisbrick, said at the summit that his company is expecting to see a quick uptake of GPS chips in phones as prices fall.
But Alain De Taeye, chief executive of digital-map supplier Tele Atlas, voiced doubts. "I'm incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunities. However, the last time I was incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunities, it took 20 years to realise them," he said, adding: "Market research predicts that 25 per cent of phones in 2010 will have GPS. I would be a bit more cautious."
Nokia is already betting on GPS-enabled phones, and most top handset suppliers are expected to come out with models soon, though Flint gave no date for when Sony Ericsson would start building GPS into its phones.
The first selling point for GPS phones is as a tool for users to find their way around but many believe social networking - similar to that helped by sites such as Facebook, Flickr and MySpace - is what will deliver mass appeal.
A Dutch company recently acquired by small Finnish mobile-phone maker Benefon is currently building a social-networking application for GPS-enabled phones.
The service, branded "GyPSii", will allow users to upload pictures, videos and sound clips recorded with their phones which are automatically encoded with the location where they were created.
Users can see where their friends are, and see and search each other's saved places.
The company's founders, Sam Critchley and Dan Harple, believe that eventually these place marks will grow into a database that will deliver more relevant search results because the company also records data on who submits what and when.
A 40-year-old man searching on a Wednesday evening for a place to meet friends for drinks, for example, might get different results than would a 16-year-old girl doing the same search on a Saturday night.
Harple said the venture is not exactly of a scale likely to bring down Google. "But we will deliver a different type of search results. We're not just crawling the web; content is being pushed from the ground up," he said.