The present and future of geo-location based apps

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Current state of geo location based technologies

The implementation of geolocation in mobile and web apps has come a long way since the early days of Google Maps and its Latitude app. Now it seems that a whole lot of new apps are using your location data to enhance the user experience or perhaps to solve potential issues.

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When a school building in Haiti’s collapsed due to a catastrophic earthquake in 2010 Ushahidi play a major role in the rescue of the survivors. One of the children, trapped within the building, was able to send out an SMS. The rescue teams were not initially able to find the school but with help from volunteers in Boston using Ushahidi they were able to locate the source of the text message and send the information to the rescue teams.

The power of geo location in the hands of the internet

Combining the geo location capabilities of these larger applications with the crowd sourcing capability of the internet is likely to yield some rewarding results.

More than 3 million people worldwide have lent their helping hand to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at home on their computers using a crowdsourcing platform called Tomnod. An online search party scanning more than 24,000 square kilometres of satellite imagery.

Users of the website can scan micro-portions of the map, each about the size of a city block, tagging anything that looks like wreckage, rafts, oil slicks, or other signs of the aircraft. Areas tagged by multiple people get passed on to expert satellite imagery analysts.

Watch a video report about the crowdsourcing on Tomnod.

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Tomnod was born as a research project at the University of San Diego and acquired in 2013 by DigitalGlobe, a Colorado-based satellite imaging company.  It has been helping disaster relief and rescue for a while, such as the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR in 2011. UNHCR needed to estimate how many people had fled their homes in a drought-stricken area of Somalia. Tomnod’s volunteers looked for signs of temporary shelter, and completed the job in 120 hours. Two years earlier, it had taken UNHCR two months to do a similar project without crowdsourcing.

You can see how geo location based technology could be deployed for a disaster situation to rapidly investigate areas of interest and dramatically reduce response times of rescue teams.

The future of geo-location apps

Now that we have touched on the some of the potential use cases of the larger apps, what about the potential for this technology to be used in smaller everyday apps? We use services like google Now on a daily bases to provide us with information at the time and location that we needed it, but there are a lot of apps out there that use a similar approach.

So, here are a list of our favourites and how we not-so-secretly hope they could be improved upon, in the future:

FoodSpotter

FoodSpotter is an app that uses your current location to suggest dishes at near by restaurants, cafes and bars etc. Each dish contains the number of people that liked it, a photo of what it looks like and a few notes from users that have tried it.

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We can see some real potential for an app like this, that takes the geo data even further with a social element. The app should show you things that your friends have liked, as well as allowing you to check the distance between each other. So that if you were near enough to each other, it can then suggest other places that you might want to check out together, that are within equal walking distance from both locations.

Moves

Moves is a new fitness tracking app for both Android and iOS. Moves uses geo location data to keep track of your physical activity. On top of that, it will actually work out what kind of activity it is, based on the same data so it doesn’t require you to tell it that you walked, ran or cycled. It simply uses the data it receives from your GPS, WiFi, mobile network and general motion detection to determine how you got from A to B.

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Currently Moves is limit to the 3 activities noted above (walking,running and cycling) but it definitely has the potential to be one of the better fitness apps out there if it expands on the types of activities you can track with it.

Google Now

We mentioned Google Now above. This is the one app that we use more often than the rest of the others here, though not specifically because of its geolocation functions.

Google Now has several features that require geo data. You can use Now to set reminders for yourself base on locations rather than a set time. Another thing Now does well, is feeding you information on what is near by, whether it’d be lunch time and you are searching for something to eat or perhaps feed you places that might be of interest, if you were on holiday.

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We think Google is one of the companies leading the charge when it comes to geo location technology. One thing I wish Google would change about Now is, letting you add things of interest onto it. Currently, the way Now decides what you are interested in, is mostly based off your search history and it does a pretty good job at it. However, there are some things that we don’t often search for, that would be good to have populate my Now screen.

TouristEye

TouristEye helps simplify the process of planning your vacations and weekend trips away by supplying you with places and attractions you may want to visit. You can then go ahead and save those places on an offline map so that you can reference them at any time and plan your route between them.

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It would be great if future apps such as this one took into account the users current location and suggested the best ways to get to the nearest place you wanted to see. It could also incorporate various APIs and display bus and train times, perhaps even list numbers for various taxi services.

Another great option would be for the app to plan a travel route for you, based on your current location, maybe even suggest other cool places to visit that are located in between the places you have marked as wanting to go to.

Where to from here?

We think it’s safe to say that more and more mobile and web apps in general are going to start incorporating geo data into how they interact with users until it becomes the norm.

All the fears around privacy, are probably still going to be floating around, but as more of these apps gain widespread adoption, These fears will be pushed aside as the benefits will start to outweigh the convenience that geo location technology can bring.

People tend to migrate to what’s easier, not what’s necessarily what’s right.

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