Join me on January 29 at 1:00 ET for a free webinar on location-enabled networking applications. I will talk with my guests from Pelago’s Whrrl and Booyah!’s MyTown about the state of the market, monetization, and the future.
January is off to a mad start. iPhones users are no longer hostage to AT&T. CES was cooking with navigation announcements from car makers and more connected personal navigation devices. Garmin took a radical step. Location-based social networks applications are getting hotter with a new entry from Qualcomm. AT&T has a new location service for enterprises. And Groupon is sitting on a mattress stuffed with money.
Qualcomm is now in the location-based social network business with its introduction of Neer, an application for Android and iPhones. Neer is privacy sensitive and designed to keep information within personal groups. Unlike foursquare, it is not searchable. Locations are also given names that don’t disclose specifics. For instance, it may be “meet at school,” “arrived at work,” or “meet at game.” According to Qualcomm, Neer is accurate within a few blocks.
The market. Melissa Parrish of Forrester Research wrote a report on location-based social networks (LBSN) in July that started a heated industry discussion. Parrish estimated the market to be 4% of U.S. online adults, but many argued (some loudly) it was much larger. I asked Parrish for her current thoughts: “The LBSN market is steadily growing,” says Parrish. “Facebook Places hasn’t overpowered the market as many supposed.” This is in part because no one location-based social network app has delivered a clear and overpowering utility, allowing niche players a place at the table. Facebook also hasn’t dominated because it has been collaborative and opened up its social graph to partners like Loopt, Gowalla, and Yelp.
Privacy continues to be a big discussion around these applications. Users are concerned both about sharing their location and having data collected about their activities. As location becomes more accurate and applications become more personalized, the creepiness factor can take hold. Parrish says the question is, “What can be done; what should be done; and what will be legislated?
AT&T enterprise customers in for location. Last week AT&T announced Location Information Services, a cloud-based offering to provide enterprises with network-based location information for corporate assets, employee devices, and consumer handsets. “We’re seeing an increased demand from our business customers to utilize the AT&T global network to be more location aware of their assets,” said Chris Hill, AT&T. The service is being developed with LOC-AID and TechnoCom. The service is scheduled to launch later this year.
Money is flowing. Groupon and SCVNGR are in the money. Groupon is getting a windfall. According to the New York Times, Groupon’s $950 million financing round is the largest venture financing for a start up. Groupon sells bargains in 500 international markets. Users pay up front for discounts such as 50% off shi shi cupcakes in Santa Monica or cellulite reduction treatments in Queens. Last year Groupon partnered with JiWire to enable hyper-local offerings based on a person’s real-time location, allowing contextual ads.
SCVNGR, pronounced Scavenger, got a more modest round of $15 million. Players of this social location-based game are given challenges to compete in a particular location. Challenges might direct you to upload a photo of yourself at Sam Adam’s grave or answer a riddle about a piece of art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Google Ventures is one of its investors.
Game that revenue. Advertising spends on mobile gaming apps is predicted by Juniper Research to increase ten-fold over the next five years, from $87 million worldwide in 2010 to $894 million in 2015. The immensely popular Rovio Mobile’s Angry Birds is being offered for free and sustained by ad revenue. Yet Juniper forecasts paid downloads and in-game purchases will be 10 times higher than ad spends in 2015.
Garmin goes Apple (finally!). Apparently, after waiting to see if iPhones catch on, Garmin announced its first iPhone navigation app. The Garmin StreetPilot is a server-based solution, downloading maps as needed, rather than storing them on the phone. It sells for $39 on iTunes. In another first, Garmin is entering the personal and property tracking market with the GTU 10.
Transform your smartphone. Pioneer unveiled SmartCradle for iPhones at CES. The cradle is used in a vehicle in conjunction with a smartphone to create a full navigation application. According to Pioneer, it is compatible with all GPS enabled apps, including MotionX-GPS Drive, which incorporates a built-in gyro sensor and accelerometer combined with an external antenna for improved GPS reception and location accuracy. The SmartCradle will also charge the connected iPhone.
Newbie. Four months ago Geomium launched in the UK and U.S. as a new location-based social network. Michael Ferguson of Geomium says, “We are using real time location and providing our users with a dynamic experience in which they can connect to people, places, deals, and events.” Geomium finds the 20 closest deals within a few miles and provides a stream of “shouts” about what is happening nearby.