Invention is not the mother of necessity

Yesterday the National Physical Laboratory played host to a conference on the subject of GPS (or any global navigation satellite system) in phones. Everyone from the chipset manufacturers to the operators was there, and perhaps some progress was made (see our FAQ on the subject here).

Yesterday the National Physical Laboratory played host to a conference on the subject of GPS (or any global navigation satellite system) in phones. Everyone from the chipset manufacturers to the operators was there, and perhaps some progress was made (see our FAQ on the subject here).

However, one thing that struck me (aside from the subject of a story I'm working on, which should go up later today or on Monday) was that nobody really has a clue about the so-called "killer app" that's going to make everyone get their act together and make it happen. Let's face it, at the end of the day it's all about the money, and right now no-one can see how to make enough of it out of GPS to justify the changes needed in phone design, business cases etc.

Probably the most sensible commentary was along the lines of that made by Scott Stonham of Openwave, which was basically that the term "Location-Based Services" is a bit of a red herring. Why? Because that's the wrong way round. If the killer app comes along then great, but in the meantime we should be talking about "Location Enhanced Services" - i.e. look at what people are using and see how GPS (or whatever) could make those services demonstrably better.

Good thinking, and worth keeping in mind for things like the "4G" debate - shouldn't we make the best of what we've got before racing to the next great thing, the case for which hasn't yet been made?

Speaking of operators, nul points to the chap from Orange who was complaining that customers have to learn "not to say excuse me to the person standing next to them" to ask directions, but rather increase their "trust relationship" with, er, their operator. "The location-based services industry needs to educate the customer away from alternative solutions," he added for good - and rather disturbing - measure.

Tech good. Loss of humanity/societal interaction bad. M'kay?

And while I'm on the subject, far too many people were sitting there bleating on about 9/11 and 7/7 like they were ad campaigns for location-based services ("it suddenly became clear that people wanted to find where their loved ones and employees were..."). Yes, we can see the point, but that doesn't stop it from being a spurious argument at best and a damn cheap exploitation of tragedy at worst.

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