The Huge Potential Of Location-Based Apps

Screenshot from Google Maps application on BlackberryThe growth of smart phones – from a consumer perspective, the iPhone in particular but also Blackberries – has really driven mobile apps into the limelight at a faster rate than almost any technology out there recently.

Over the last couple of years, and especially the last few months, we’ve seen mobile applications vault more and more into the mainstream. We’re at the point now where many people don’t think twice about downloading the latest Facebook, Google Maps or gaming application to use on their mobile device – any more than they would about downloading something to their desktop.

Mobile apps even appearing for business functions now (beyond regular email) – email campaign service Constant Contact launched an iPhone app yesterday to let people check in on their email campaigns, for example.

(Caveat: Of course, many people aren’t there yet. I know plenty of people whose phones don’t even have bluetooth, let alone data plans)

So, if mobile apps are becoming a current “big thing,” what’s next?

My take: local.

Keeping it local

While as sites like Yelp have leveraged user reviews at a local level, the best mobile apps over the next couple of years will pair GPS, cell tower or manually-set location information with contextual content.

Consider FourSquare. I started playing around with FourSquare fairly recently. Essentially, it’s a social network that lets you tell your contacts where you are right now. There are a bunch of other game-playing features wrapped around it, but it’s basically a location-based social network.

Think for a minute about the potential simple extensions to a network like this:

  • Know when your friends are in the same neighbourhood as you
  • Receive special offers from businesses in the area (check in at a subway station and get a $10-off coupon for a nearby restaurant, for example)
  • Ensure ads are targeted to only come from businesses in the neighbourhoods you frequent, or even the kinds of places you visit

Take that kind of thinking and consider the optional extensions to your favourite apps. I might like to know which nearby restaurants my Facebook friends have eaten at. I might want to be notified about breaking news from near my location, whereas I might have to proactively check a news app to get other news.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to every application. I won’t go as far as Kate Imbach and suggest that you care what your neighbours are eating, but there are plenty of extremely interesting applications even for recipe-based sites (perhaps showing you which stores in your area stock the ingredients you need).

Stop and think for a moment – could your company or your clients be working location-based applications into their marketing mix?

What do you think?

(Additional: I’m on the look-out for good books on mobile marketing, especially those considering topics like this. If you know of any, let me know in the comments!)

15 Responses toThe Huge Potential Of Location-Based Apps

  • I’m with you all the way here, Dave, but I disagree on an important sentence you wrote:

    “So, if mobile apps are becoming a current “big thing,” what’s next?”

    I don’t think mobile apps are a big thing yet. I think they are next. While most people in a random conference room or high school English class room own a cell phone, how many own a smart phone that can have such an app? Or, how many cell phone users pay for web access? Further, I use FourSquare from my BlackBerry but there’s no app for it; I use the website to check-in.

    Mobile apps are being developed like condensation in a cloud. I think we have to wait for the mass of developers to die down, for less apps to be created so more time can be spent creating the location-based symmetry that we agree is coming, but the way the market is today, it’s too soon to ask what’s next.

    • Hi Ari,

      You’re right. As I noted in the caveat, plenty of people don’t even have phones with bluetooth, let alone smartphones at this point. It’s an important point.

      I remember a post from the CEO of a mobile-based company the other day where they said that “mobile” is growing at a far faster rate than any other medium has. So, if mobile apps aren’t “now,” they’re likely “soon.” I find the area fascinating.

  • Dave,

    For the smallbiz folks out there working on getting a handle on SM and using these tactics to drive customers if they are not reading, thinking, and learning about mobile apps to grow their business they are missing a great method to ROI..lost cost and not a ton of effort required.
    Here in my area Foursquare is making an impact in the nightlife scene in a large way. Also GPS, augmented reality mobile apps with a social gaming influence is the next…no doubt in my mind.
    My kids 14,18 are smartphone wired, and don’t even think about how cool or neat it is they just use it and do it….
    Now if we can just get the older wiser biz folks to get on with it…
    Nice post..look forward to your next..

  • Dave, what’s fascinating is that location-based services are only now picking up steam toward mainstream adoption. Way back in 2001, I worked to get a wireless location trade association off the ground and it fizzled before it really got started. The applicable ideas and tech were there, but much of the infrastructure was painfully behind. Guess we can call it an idea before its time.

    I agree with Ari…we’re still in the early stages of mobile – and infancy of wireless location services. Now the ideas, tech, and infrastructure are in place, but we’re going to come head long into another barrier which are social/cultural rules. How do businesses create them in a responsible way; and how do we users contend with when and how its appropriate to use them.

  • The faster marketing professionals can figure out how to seamlessly integrate messaging into location based apps? (Without being invasive) We’ll have something awesome.

    Thus far I haven’t been to impressed with any real-life examples. I’m salivating at the potential though.

  • David,

    I think you’re right in that they are a very important part of a future, related to convergence where we no longer distinguish between devices like televisions, phones, and cpus. But I think they are much further along that anyone expected.

    NAVTEQ recently released a study that revealed 72 percent of consumers find the ads to be acceptable on their navigation devices; 50 percent of respondents recall seeing an ad for each of the advertised brands; and 19 percent of people who recall seeing a specific ad reported clicking through for information on nearby locations. That’s pretty powerful stuff, even if adoption isn’t 100 percent as noted. It’s simply high enough.

    Imagine what this will do for advertising. Companies on the front end of the technology (right now) could literary divert traffic en route to a competitor based on location. Or, perhaps they won’t have to if your company is the only one in that space.

    We really haven’t seen anything yet.

    All my best,

  • Damn, you beat me to the punch! 🙂

    We’ll be working with a big media campaign for a client throughout 2010 and into 2011, and mobile apps and geo-location is a very large part of our solutions for the client. Should be fun, and a great way for folks to interact, and not just with their friends.

  • Dave,
    This is a refreshing evolution, and one that (I guess) inevitably was bound to occur. Social media for so long seemed to replace a great deal of day-to-day real human interaction. Instead of phone or face-to-face, it was email for Facebook. It now seems to be coming full circle i.e. social media now has evolved in a way to facilitate more face-to-face interaction. Is there a point at which everything is effectively mobile? In two years, will I ever tweet from a laptop (or Tweet at all)?

  • Interesting thoughts Dave. This certainly seems to be the way mobile apps are developing. Everybody seems to be lapping up the ‘access’ to their friends lives on facebook & twitter for example – people are able to connect in a very immediate way. I remember working on a project concept when the iTouch was first released which enabled university students to interact with their campus and classmates depending on their location – finding out who was in the students union for example to make a decision about whether they wanted to join them. Using this sort of thing in a commercial way will be very successful but I think we need to be careful not to flood virtual ‘social’ places with blatant advertising – keeping the content relevant to the user will be the key IMHO.

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