Expanding on our Building a Mobile Strategy series, mapping app expert discusses how location will be an integral part of the mobile revolution.

The Mobile Revolution: Location

Many of us technology folk have a feeling of deja-vu; 2011 is strangely like 1996. Back then the World Wide Web filled media discussions. Companies sat on the sidelines and watched, while consumers embraced this new technology. The explosion of the Internet has had a profound effect on how we work, and how we live our lives. Today all eyes are turned to mobile. Many feel we are on the edge of a revolution perhaps even bigger than the Internet.

There are two ways to access applications on a mobile device. The first is to simply fire up the mobile Web browser and load a Web application. Existing Web sites are designed for mouse interaction. Mobile interaction is with the finger, thus most Web sites need to be optimized for the mobile Web. This usually means a rework of both design and functionality. Restrictions by Apple mean that cross platform Web solutions are limited to HTML5. Sites built with Flash, Flex and Silverlight are not accessible on the IPhone or IPad.

Installed applications are the second type of application accessible on mobiles. These can be downloaded from the various app stores. Many are written in so called native languages; Objective C for Apples IOS, Java for Android etc. Native languages are specific for a platform, meaning multiple versions of the same app need be developed for cross platform operation. The recent launch of mobile AIR by Adobe, means that so called hybrid apps can be written which run across all platforms.

Mobile devices all have built in GPS. Meaning they know where they are and can report that information. So a mobile user can ask questions about what is nearby; great restaurants, friends, shopping deals. Mobile users can be tracked (!). Mobile allows workers to work when out of the office. Not just mobile workers ANY worker. We can now build applications which allow workers to work anywhere. And be more efficient and more effective.

  • Enterprise Check-in

Check-In has become synonymous with consumers, and influencing purchasing behavior. But there are wider implications of the check-in. At its most basic a check-in is a notification of current location. That might be a physical location such as a store, or field location (latitude/longitude). Information can then be collected at that location. A simple example might be a field service technician, maybe fixing air conditioning units. On arrival at a location, the tech checks-in using a smartphone. Place, time, and date are sent back to a company server. On the call completion the tech checks-out, and maybe information about the work done. This is data which could be accessed in subsequent calls to the same location.

  • Routing, traffic and local search

Both Google and MapQuest now provide excellent services to help mobile users get from place to place. We can now get dynamic data, through our mobile devices, which allow us to move from location to location efficiently. MapQuest provide optimized routing which not only maps the most efficient route, but avoids traffic ahead. In addition, at any point in our journey, we can use a local search service to find what is near us.

  • Location & Data Collection

Pen, paper, phone, and voice recording are still used by workers when out of the office, to collect work related information. Wouldn’t it be nice to open an app on our mobile devices which knows our current location? Any notes we make, photos or other information are all linked to that location and uploaded for later use.

  • Management and organization

Improving efficiency is what all companies are striving to improve. Mobile provides a new way to manage, organize and coordinate. Knowing in real time, where workers are located individually, and in relation to others will be huge. Coordinating and communicating using video conferencing. Sharing information dynamically will help better decisions be made faster.

  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

So much of what we do has a location associated; our home, our daily movements, our clients. Some industries have very obvious geographic components; engineering, agriculture, mining, transportation, utilities, oil & gas, telecommunications. But all work has a geographic component. Geographic information systems help visualize, analyze, manage and store location data. A civil engineer on site might wonder where the sewage pipes run under his feet. Mobile GIS will show this information.  An oil and gas safety inspector might query for all valves within 50ft of his current location which are above fail safe. An orange grower may want to record new acreage planted. A sales manager may want to analyze his territory, to find which areas are underperforming. GIS has many potential applications.

Location will be an important part of many mobile applications. Mobile presents new and exciting possibilities to transform how we live and how we work. We are truly on the verge of living through a new technology driven revolution.