While Facebook has made big news buying companies for billions of dollars, it hasn’t been making many location-based services headlines. The recent announcement that it is rolling out a friend finder is interesting news, not only for social applications, but the potential indoor positioning markets. The news is also interesting because as many as half of Facebook users access the social media network through mobile devices.
Signaling that it does have a location strategy, as GPS World reported earlier this week, Facebook announced that it was launching an LBS offering called Nearby Friends. The opt-in service allows users to find out what friends are nearby or mobile.
Nearby Friends will be available on Android and iPhones in the U.S. market this month. In Facebook’s press announcement, apparently privacy is a big issue as the company insists it is an opt-in function.
Once users agree to use the service, they will be notified when friends are in close proximity. Users can select the friends who can see their location — and can turn the service on or off at any time.
At first glance, Nearby Friends could be a valuable tool for users looking to find friends and make plans, but the real potential could be for retailers who wish to drive in-store traffic. Users can not only invite friends to a specific business on a map, but tag other traffic.
The area or business to where the friends are traveling will be displayed on their profile. This allows the friends who opt in to recommend shops, restaurants and other things to do in the specified area.
How retailers get their message out to Nearby Friends users remains to be seen. Research company Berg Insight still says advertising will constitute the main revenues for social networking and local search market segments. However, in several published reports, users have tired of the increased Facebook advertisements.
Berg says that social networking and entertainment has now overtaken mapping and navigation as the largest location market. The company says that those services include general social networking, messaging apps, friend finders such as Nearby Friends, and games.
While Facebook could use the Location History in Nearby Friends to make money selling ads, the company says it isn’t right now. But it has to be the future — and one that, privacy issues aside, could be very lucrative for the company. It could target opt-in users with ads that are only a few feet away or in the area they will meet friends.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook will leverage its user base, estimated at one billion users, to improve ad targeting, expand marketing reach, and to make more money. The company earned $1.24 billion in revenue through mobile ads for the last three months of 2013, according to published reports.
After the announcement that Facebook was launching Nearby Friends, a number of tech business articles sprung up about potential, real and imagined, privacy issues. With the predictable privacy issues comes opportunities for location startups. A new location app is touting itself as the “anti-social networking” tool. Called Cloak, and available in Apple’s App Store, it allows a user to avoid friends they want to avoid by revealing the location of contacts — while keeping the user’s position hidden.
The app, which already has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, uses Instagram and Foursquare data, and published reports say Facebook compatibility is coming soon.
Rumors about Acquisition Prove False?
Earlier this month, several tech business industry publications wrote that Israel-based indoor navigation startup ShopCloud was in talks with Samsung to sell the company for as much as $90 million. Samsung has denied the rumors.
In articles like these, red flags always include terms like “several sources familiar with the details”. The price seemed high for a young company that hasn’t launched a product, though according to published reports, it has an app called Inside.
One analyst says that the Israel tech business media frequently pumps up local companies and even creates buzz for startups — and often these reports are picked up by local journalists.
Autonomous Vehicles Will Happen, but When?
In January’s Transportation Research Board (TRB) meeting in Washington, D.C., attendees agreed that self-driving vehicles are the future. The bottom line is when is the future? “We have seen the business case for autonomous vehicles — it will be a reality. When you look at the number of lives it will save, efficiency of the network, it is very compelling,” said Kevin Link, Verizon senior vice president and general manager, China. “We have to begin a slow migration of educating consumers — one of those ways is through the connected vehicle. I don’t think consumers are there yet.”
Link talked about autonomous vehicles at the Consumer Telematics Conference, also in January, but those at TRB are mainly academics and government officials, not business executives. Most believe it will take decades, Google car aside, to have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road. Others believe that if Detroit does not take notice, they can read about Google dominating this vehicle market, not being a player in it.
In other location news:
- Place, the Business of Location conference will be July 22 in New York. Executives from SK Telecom, Thinknear, Sonic Notify, Aisle411, and Factual will join Google, retailer Alex and Ani, and agency MEC North America (WPP), among others. The conference will include case studies and explore how mobile, offline tracking and indoor location will change the future of digital marketing and brand advertising. Many location conferences have died in the last two years, so it is refreshing to see a conference with a strong agenda back on the scene.
- Finland-based IndoorAtlas rolled out an indoor mapping application for iOS. While iOS supports Apple’s iBeacon micro-fencing solution for indoor positioning, IndoorAtlas uses the compass chip built into smartphones and does not require external hardware such as Bluetooth beacons or Wi-Fi to determine location, the company said.
- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Apple a patent that could drive technology on the next generation iPhones. The patent describes a system that combines GPS, Wi-Fi access points, and on-board location databases to provide mobile devices positioning data in all types of environments, particularly indoor location.