LBS making inroad to Asia via smartphones

Adoption of smartphones enabled with global positioning systems are bringing location-based services to new heights in Asia, says Navteq executive.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Location-based services (LBS) are seeing an accelerated growth in Asia, with smartphones paving the way, according to a Navteq executive.

Rafay Khan, vice president, sales and business development, Asia-Pacific at Navteq, told ZDNet Asia that the map-maker is seeing growth in the region coming from "social, people-oriented" LBS applications, and expects this trend to continue with the adoption of smartphones.

"The United States and Europe have traditionally been at the forefront [of LBS adoption]. The uptake of smartphones is the way Asia will catch up," said Khan.

He said the popularity of social networking applications are driving the adoption of LBS on devices, with both device makers and software developers recently sitting up and paying attention to this segment.

This trend was seen in the recent entries of Navteq's annual developer challenge, where a sizable portion of submissions centered around the social networking theme, he said.

Device makers, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and the latest addition, Nokia, have come out in support of LBS on their devices, and sponsored Navteq's global competition, he added.

Quoting figures from research company, Gartner, Navteq said the number of LBS-subscribers will increase rapidly during the next five years. "In 2011, the number will exceed 55 million in Western Europe and top 71 million in North America. Subscribers in the Asia-Pacific region including Japan will number more than 117 million and 54 million respectively."

And revenues will spike, to match, said Navteq. "According to Gartner, revenue will reach US$2.3 billion in Western Europe and US$2.2 billion in North America in 2011. In the same year, the Asia-Pacific region including Japan will generate US$2.6 billion and US$1.1 billion respectively."

To capture this growing market, Navteq is focusing on capturing richer data within its maps, apart from roads, said Khan. This includes information and points of interest for people who are walking with GPS-enabled smartphones.

While mapping services have focused mainly on driving directions for use in car systems, the growing use of GPS and mapping applications on phones has shifted the focus to "pedestrian data", where finer details on landmarks such as malls are directed toward phone users' usage patterns.

Khan said the interest in social LBS applications differ between each Asian country. "Each country has its unique nuance. For example, friend-finding applications are popular in India. In Singapore, data on malls and shops appeal more. In Korea and Japan, addresses are difficult to find."

And the shift toward such usage patterns will mark a difference between LBS adoption in Asia, compared to the West, he said. "The focus on shopping is obvious in Singapore, but not so obvious in America. The apps created in Asia will be different from those from Europe or the United States."

This opens up the business opportunities for location-based advertising, he said. Singapore this year launched an SMS-based push advertising service, which Gartner has said will be more accurate with the introduction of GPS-enabled phones.

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