Vodafone to Open Source Wayfinder Code

Wireless operator Vodafone announced today that it transferred to open source (BSD license) all the software development made at Wayfinder, a navigation and LBS supplier acquired in December 2008 for $29.4 million (two and half times its market capitalization) and closed down in March 2010 (read here).

"Given our decision to stop developing turn by turn location based services as part of our core business, it seemed an obvious choice to make the code we own open source” said Pieter Knook, Director of Internet Services at Vodafone Group. "We look forward to seeing its continued use in all sorts of different applications in the future."

The Wayfinder software is a client-server based system for navigation and different related location-based-services, including mapping and local search. The server is designed to be highly scalable and has a distributed architecture and runs on Linux CentOS operating system. Several clients, supporting a wide range of mobile phone platforms, are available and include navigation clients for Symbian S60, iPhone and Android.

This open source software is a real goldmine for independent LBS app developers. This LBS and navigation platform was developed over pretty much a ten years span with tens of software developers (staff at Wayfinder was over 100 people in the third quarter 2008). Consequently this is not such good news for former Wayfinder competitors and particularly for LBS platform vendors.


Google Latitude: 3m Users, Are We Impressed?

Steve Lee, product manager for Google Maps for Mobile and Latitude, said during a panel at the Web 2.0 Expo that their friend finder service, Google Latitude, currently has three million active users. He also added that until now around 8 million people have registered since the service launched in February 2009 (read here).

If we consider the service has been available since day one on multiple devices in 27 countries and 42 languages that is not really impressive.

Let’s put it in perspective: Loopt has well over 3 million users (probably closer to 4 million) — watch our interview with CEO Sam Altman here — and they are only available in the U.S.. Foursquare has over 1 million and Gypsii said back in February that they have added 1 million new users in their last quarter.

If we consider the marketing/exposure power of the internet giant compared to these start-up companies, three million is not a great achievement. Let’s not forget that Latitude is part of Google Maps for Mobile on most phones, a service that currently has over 50 million active users — per Google’s Ed Parsons presentation at the Location business Summit in Amsterdam.

Interestingly, Steve Lee also said that only 10% of Latitude users are running it on an Android phone. In addition, he pointed out that one quarter of these three million users have zero friends on the service. This obviously opens up the question about what is an active user — with no friend to share their location with, I guess the activity of these 750,000 users is relatively low.

To Google’s defense, Latitude is an always-on service and the lack of background location on the iPhone has surely hindered its development. With the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0 offering background location, this barrier is likely to disappear.

Another reason of the — relative — lack of traction of Latitude might be linked to the deteriorating image of Google in the public opinion worldwide. When it comes to privacy, Peeping-Tom-Streetview-Cars have not been the best ambassadors of the Mountain View company, especially in some European countries such as Germany. No surprise why the same consumers are not likely to trust Google in logging their every instant location on their servers.

uLocate/WHERE Launches Local Mobile Ad Network

Local search and LBS provider uLocate Communications today announced the launch of a hyper-local advertising network, WHERE Ads, which inventory gathers the WHERE application as well as partners Geocade, Jambase, MocoSpace and Superpages.com.

“We built WHERE Ads because we wanted to deliver a better advertising experience to our audience,“ said Walt Doyle, CEO of uLocate/WHERE. “Leveraging our unique access to the carrier infrastructure, we are able to deliver hyper-local, contextually relevant content. The result is that we are driving benefit by connecting the consumer and the local merchant. We’re now excited to begin offering this solution to third party publishers.”

The current advertisers list encompasses all different kinds of local merchants including restaurants, service providers, small companies, etc. uLocate indicates that Click Through Rates (CTR) on WHERE Ads has exceeded other mobile ads by as much as three times.

“The ads are location based, and when we have context, they are contextually based making them highly targeted”, explained Dan Gilmartin, vice president of marketing at uLocate in an email to GPS Business News. “Radius depends on the user’s location. In an urban/city environment you will find ads for merchants on the city block where you may be standing. In a suburban setting, the ads may be for merchants further away.”

However, uLocate does not intend to go direct for selling their — and their partners – ad inventory. “We are not planning to build a direct sales force. We have built a platform and team that excels in aggregation of content and information”, explained Gilmartin. “Much like we curate the world around you through our WHERE app, we will curate local ads through aggregation, to deliver highly relevant advertising.”

Samsung to Ship New Built-in GPS Camera

Samsung today unveiled five new point-and-shoots cameras; among them is the WB650 model that features an embedded GPS to geo-tag pictures. Other particularities are a 15x optical zoom lens that starts at an ultrawide 24mm, a 3-inch AMOLED display and HD-quality video recording. Pricing has not been disclosed yet.

This is the second GPS camera for Samsung after the CL65/ST1000 launched last year (read story here). At the CES trade show ten days ago Sony also introduced a GPS and compass-enabled camera (read here) and Casio was displaying a prototype with GPS and indoor dead reckoning (read here).

CES: Casio demonstrates camera with GPS & dead reckoning

At the CES trade show in Las Vegas, Casio demonstrated last week a modified version of its newly announced EXILIM EX-FH100 compact camera capable of providing outdoor and indoor positioning.

Fitted with a GPS and inertial sensors, the camera prototype is able to locate a picture taken outdoor and indoor. The indoor location is calculated with dead reckoning algorithms: the latest known position of the GPS, plus movements and directions based on inertial sensors measurements.

In addition the camera has embedded digital maps and points of interest. Pictures in the camera can be displayed and searched via the map interface. The map also shows the distance to the nearest POIs; pedometer and calorie consumption can be also displayed.

No date of release of such camera has been announced yet.

Location: the Proper Identity of Mobile Gaming?

GPS Business News recently had a conversation about location-based gaming with Maarten Noyons, founder of the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA) and Pia Vuohelainen, partner manager at NAVTEQ.

Last year IMGA introduced the "Best Real World Game" award, a prize for location-based games. This category was a clear success and is continued this year. Digital map maker NAVTEQ will return as a judge to the 6th IMGA as well as handing out the "Best Real World Game" award at the IMGA awards ceremony during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February 2010.

GPS Business News: Maarten, you are the founder of the International Mobile Gaming Awards, can you give me a bit of background about it and tell me how you came to location-based gaming?

Maarten Noyons: When I started the International Mobile Gaming Awards in 2004 what was big was 3D in mobile games. As a matter of fact Autodesk was a major sponsor at that time. Then in 2006 we gave the “Grand Prix” and the “Most Innovative Game Award” to Triangler, an innovative mobile game that was using location as the key element of its gameplay. Basically two teams of 100 players play a two-hour match in a city or rural area. The goal of the game is to enclose enemy players with 2000-meter equilateral triangles formed by you and your team buddies. This is a lot of fun to play.

Last year, for our 2008 awards [handed out at the Mobile World Congress in February 2009] we included a new category called “Best Real World Game” which was sponsored by NAVTEQ. German-based Urban Team won it with with the “Fastfoot-Challenge” game.

So, after five years, what I can tell you is that I believe location brings a real new dimension to mobile gaming. To be even more precise I think location is bringing its proper identity to mobile gaming.

GPS BN: And you Pia, what is your take on that trend from a map maker perspective?

Pia Vuohelainen: I’d like to add a bit of a wider perspective here. My idea is that we should probably talk about location-based entertainment rather than location-based gaming. Let me explain why. For example, there are dating services using location that integrate a gaming element and in the future we will see a lot of touristic applications that will leverage location and be played like games.

MN: Yes, this is true, I completely agree with you Pia. We should rename this category, this is much wider than typically understood. We haven’t really found a name yet even if “real world game” is a reasonable step towards it.

GPS BN: Even if there are more and more games leveraging location, it is still a very small niche, so how do you develop this market?

MN: In the one hand you need to challenge developers about the integration of location as a gameplay element. This is something we are doing with this “Real World Game” award. What we are looking for is the good ideas; I am therefore curious to see the entries for IMGA this year. I am expecting many projects from new iPhone developers.

In the other hand you also need to find players. In most cases these location-based games are multi-players which means to make it fun you need to gather a large number of players in one place. Therefore a gaming festival makes a lot of sense. This is what we are working on now. We have set a partnership with the city of Marseille (France) that will be hosting the “Playground Festival” in September 2010.


Intellione launches free traffic app in Toronto

Traffic information provider Intellione has announced the release of ioVector, a free smartphone application delivering traffic maps, trip times and local search to mobile users in the Toronto area (Canada). ioVector is first available exclusively for BlackBerry 8300 & 8800 Series and Bold and Pearl models; future support for other smartphones is planned.

ioVector is using Intellione’s "io-traffic" technology. Based on an agreement with Canadian wireless operator Roger Wireless, io-traffic, launched in January 2009, collects and aggregates millions of GPS and mobile phone locations, then measures traffic on all roadways within 30 seconds to paint a live picture of traffic conditions in the area.

Intellione raised $14.5 million in 2008. The financing round was led by Genuity Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in Toronto (read story).

Travel Channel: “there are opportunities for paid-for content”

At the Metaplaces conference in San Jose yesterday GPS Business News had the opportunity to interview with Chris Ackermann, who his leading the mobile initiative at Travel Channel Media, a large, US-based television network devoted exclusively to travel entertainment. Last May the company launched its first iPhone application and a Blackberry app is currently in development.

In this interview Chris Ackermann gave us his thoughts about the mobile content market and the possibilities offered to content providers for monetization.

Chris Ackermann joined Travel Channel two years ago. Prior to that, Chris was Product Manager at Zoombak, a wireless LBS startup backed by Liberty Media where he managed the development of new location-enabled mobile media services. Previously, he was Product Manager at Spirent Communications, where he played a key role in the development of emerging wireless location technologies. Chris received a BS in Computer Engineering from Villanova University and received an MBA from Rutgers Business School.

Jill Smith, DigitalGlobe: “satellite imagery could be offered wherever there is a vector map”

While satellite imagery was considered a professional tool only a few years ago, Google Earth, followed by most mapping portal made it as popular as the map view. Nevertheless, the satellite imagery market for consumer applications is still an emerging market today, even if very promising thanks to the limited number of players and the high barriers to entry. We recently had the opportunity to get an insight on this business through an interview with DigitalGlobe CEO Jill Smith.

Jill D. Smith joined DigitalGlobe in 2005 where he serves as President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of the Board. Prior to joining DigitalGlobe, from March 2005 to October 2005, Ms. Smith was President and CEO of Gomez, Inc., a provider of on-demand web application experience management solutions, and prior to that, from 2001 to 2005, Ms. Smith was President and CEO of eDial, a provider of conferencing and collaboration solutions that was acquired by Alcatel.

Before her eDial tenure, Jill Smith was CEO of Micron Electronics, Inc. Ms. Smith also co-founded and led Treacy & Company, LLC, a boutique consulting and investment business, and was CEO of SRDS, L.P., a privately held publishing company. Earlier in her career Jill Smith also held senior level positions at Sara Lee Corporation and Bain & Company. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Studies from London Guildhall University and a Master of Science in Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

GPS Business News: can you briefly present me your company?

Jill Smith: We are operating a constellation of satellites dedicated to providing high quality earth imagery and geospatial information products. We have two satellites currently in operation: QuickBird and WorldView 1 and we are in the process of launching a third one, WorldView 2.

As a company our goal is to lower the barriers that come when using satellite imagery today. We believe this type of imagery is no more limited to complex GIS systems and it can be easily implemented into consumer products. We are looking at eliminating barriers at two important levels. The first one is to provide continuous coverage of the globe. With our upcoming WorldView 2 satellite that will be launched next month we will reach a tipping point which is about providing annual coverage of the globe. Our customers will have the assurance of an annual update. This is a very important point.

The second key enabler is the availability of cloud computing to distribute our products. With the geospatial cloud we can offer a platform with high performance computing and bring down cost. Our customers can therefore access imagery through various formats, immediately. We can also offer additional services such as change detection or feature identification that leverage this geospatial cloud.

GPS BN: What is the size of the company today?

JS: we are roughly 500 people and our revenue was $275 million last year.


Twitter to get geolocation

Last week Twitter announced it will include geolocation in standard in its short message system. Along with the option to geo-tag updates, users will be able to search for nearby tweets and view the geo metadata in user timelines.

So far many developers have been able to add location to tweets in their applications but it was not directly supported by Twitter. “We’re gearing up to launch a new feature which makes Twitter truly location-aware”, said a post from Twitter CEO Biz Stone. “A new API will allow developers to add latitude and longitude to any tweet. […]We’re very excited about the potential of location metadata combined with Twitter. ”

Before launching it on its own website, Twitter is giving its developers a preview of the API to let them develop. “We’re going to release geolocation to platform developers before we add the feature to Twitter.com. Most of the mobile applications people use and love are built by Twitter platform developers.”

Back in June Twitter hired Ryan Sarver from Skyhook Wireless, a major provider of Wi-FI geolocation services. At Skyhook Sarver was director of consumer products and he was been at the forefront of the “geo-web” being the founder and chair of the Location Aware Working Group (World Wide Web Consortium) whose goal is to work with browser vendors, location providers and location consumers to define a privacy-aware standard for making a user’s geolocation data available through a simple API.


In including geolocation Twitter will face the sensitive topic of privacy. In a post in a blog for twitter developers, Sarver notes: “As part of our Geolocation efforts we will soon be publishing "Geolocation Best Practices" to guide everyone through issues like security and privacy as well as discussing some ideal experiences for users. Topics will include things like storage of location data, what to do with a user’s historical data, how to present the concept of geotagging and more. The guide will create a framework from which we can address the challenges that come about when dealing with something as sensitive as someone’s location while hopefully allowing everyone enough creative freedom to create their own experiences around it.”

In addition, geolocation will be “strictly opt-in”, only the user will decide to add its position to tweets.

With all the rage we know about Twitter these days, this geolocation API will surely develop new use case for the micro-blogging service. From hyper local citizen journalism to friend finder and beyond, there are many innovative ways location can be used. If we also look at Twitter’s own monetization, this could be a way to sell geo-targeted ads, a good thing for a company which is still struggling to find a business model.