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Location based services (LBS) may be the rage around the world, but have not made their presence felt in India. Could context awareness hold the key to their success?
In recent times, there has been a lot of talk about Location based services (LBS)--applications that integrate geographic location while delivering relevant information.
Interestingly, LBS as a concept is not new. It is in fact almost a decade old and has been in use in the enterprise domain for years. However, it has not made its presence felt in the consumer sector for some rather interesting reasons. One cannot have a tasty dish without the right ingredients. Well, the same applies to technologies. Some of the ingredients considered necessary to make LBS relevant to a broader base of consumers were the existence of standards, efficient computing power, friendly yet-powerful human-computer interfaces, higher penetration of feature- rich smartphones, GPS (global positioning system) devices, a geographical database for locations, and a rich collection of points of interests.
While most of the ingredients seem to have reached the threshold to enable the use of LBS in developed countries, developing economies like India are still struggling in this regard. Perhaps India’s dense population and middle class dominance doesn’t make investment intensive ingredients like GPS devices, smartphones, PNDs (portable navigation devices), etc, a common need. Thus, delivering location-based services has been a greater challenge in this part of the world and requires different strategies from those that succeeded in the west.
The need for LBS
A rapidly changing landscape, lack of navigation planning, and increasing traffic are some of the factors that are fuelling a rising need for highly efficient navigation and allied services for the masses. An efficient navigation system can also act as the backbone for other services to be delivered along an active route the user is travelling through—what are known as ‘vertical location-based-services’. Live traffic information, local search, permissive local advertisements, mobile contact trackers and SOS, are some examples of vertical LBS.
One of the developments in the LBS industry has been the emergence of technologies that have demonstrated a viable solution without needing a GPS device. Operators themselves have been trying for more than half a decade to use dynamic location awareness to provide customised mobile services to consumers, but there has nevertheless been a noticeable delay in bringing efficient location-based services over mobile devices.
Today, such services are often used via Web browsers and hence considered as Web services. The additional challenges to be considered are the richness, personalisation and ubiquity of services to the mobile user, and the linking of services to a relevant context. Therefore, another challenge has been the lack of understanding among application developers about what makes a location-based service appealing to the common person. Systems that can deliver intelligent information in relation to the context of the user’s location simply do not exist.
The entire LBS bouquet has been revolving around harnessing the value out of the users’ location awareness and not the location’s context awareness. This is a fact that is confirmed by the research team under the Future Computing Environments (FCE) at Georgia Tech, which is dedicated to the invention of novel applications using context-aware computing technology to assist everyday activities. This team admitted that the majority of context-aware computing is restricted to location-aware computing for mobile applications and not the location-context-aware computing. Therefore, this is perhaps the fundamental intelligence that is needed to be delivered to make LBS more appealing to the user.
What is context awareness?
Is the fact that I am at Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, contextual information about me? Well, actually it is location awareness about me and not location context awareness. But add to that the fact that it’s a Sunday afternoon; Lajpat Nagar is a busy shopping area; and as my office is not located here, the chances are that I am probably out shopping, would be contextual information related to my current location.
Another example of contextual information would be the fact that as it is December, it is likely to be cold in Delhi and there’s a fair chance that I might go to a restaurant to have some hot beverage. Similarly, a famous dry-fruit shop in the area may like to notify me that it is offering cashew nuts at a discount. Since most people are in a frame of mind to shop in that area, chances are that they may go there to check the prices and end up making a purchase. Since it is winter, chances are that most shoppers are looking for woollen clothes on discount in the area and, hence, a merchant offering special discounts on woollen clothes may like to advertise it to every person entering the area.
This is an example of advertising based on the location context-awareness of the consumers. Such information delivered on mobile phones with the address of relevant merchants and last-mile directions can act as icing on the cake and enhance the experience of consumers.
However, we have not yet seen intelligent ways of collating and managing this information to make it relevant, interesting and useful for the customer, while increasing the reach of advertisers. One way is to passively collect mobile location data in real-time from users’ mobile devices or other possible sources, and then classify people into various categories based on their behavioral patterns over time.
This will ease the process of inferring traits about particular places and the type of people that visit them; what people do at these places and what are they likely to do next. This information can easily be used to decipher changes in consumer behaviour over time, predict trends and hence, this data can be correlated with various industry domains like retail, travel, tourism and entertainment. A few companies in the west, like Rocking Frog and Sense Networks, have made some efforts in this direction but unfortunately, the Indian arena is still waiting for something similar to happen.