May 17, 2007 / 12:20 PM / 12 years ago

Positioning phones to create new social networks

PARIS (Reuters) - Finding friends and meeting new ones could become even more important uses for global positioning chips than getting from A to B as the technology spreads to cellphones in coming years.

Sony Ericsson President Miles Flint speaks at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in Paris May 16, 2007. Picture taken May 16, 2007. REUTERS/Mal Langsdon (FRANCE)

Combined with mobile Internet access, GPS (global positioning system) is seen in the industry as adding a new dimension to social networking that could also have implications for the media business.

“GPS tells me that today I’m sitting somewhere at 48 degrees north, 2 degrees east. Is that really that much value if I know I’m sitting in Paris?” said Miles Flint, head of mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson.

But he saw that changing in future.

“One of the more compelling things that we might use every day is the integration of that information into knowing where my friends are,” he told the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in Paris this week.

GPS chips use satellites orbiting the earth to determine the exact position of the user. They are found in car navigation systems, which have surged in popularity in recent years, and the technology is now making the jump to mobile phones.

Once people can physically find those they want to more easily — as long as those others want to be found — it can enhance the establishment of growing Internet social networks such as News Corp.’s MySpace site.

“‘Your communities in your pocket,’ I think that explains where we’re headed quite well,” Nokia Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said earlier this month at a shareholders meeting.

UPTAKE SPEED

Industry executives still disagree over how quickly satellite navigation will find its way into phones.

The chief executive of chip maker CSR, John Scarisbrick, told the Reuters Summit his company was expecting to see a quick uptake of GPS chips in phones as prices fall.

But Alain De Taeye, chief executive of digital map supplier Tele Atlas, voiced doubts.

“I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunities. However, the last time I was incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunities, it took 20 years to realize them,” De Taeye said.

“Market research predicts that 25 percent of phones in 2010 will have GPS. I would be a bit more cautious.”

Nokia is already betting on GPS-enabled phones and most top handset suppliers are expected to come out with models soon, though Flint gave no date for when Sony Ericsson would start building GPS into its phones.

The first selling point for GPS phones is as a tool for users to find their way around, but many believe the social networking similar to that helped by MySpace, Facebook and Flickr Web sites is what will deliver mass appeal.

WHERE ARE MY FRIENDS?

An Amsterdam company, recently acquired by small Finnish mobile phone maker Benefon, is currently building a social networking application for GPS-enabled phones.

The service, branded GyPSii, will allow users to upload pictures, videos and sound clips recorded with their phones that are automatically encoded with the location where the picture was taken or the recording was made.

Users can see where their friends are and see and search each other’s saved places.

The company’s founders, Dan Harple and Sam Critchley, believe that eventually, these place marks will grow into a database that will deliver more relevant search results because the company also records data on who submits what and when.

A 40-year old man searching on a Wednesday evening for a place to meet friends for drinks might get different results to a 16-year-old girl doing the same search on a Saturday night.

Sitting on board a canal boat in Amsterdam, Harple said the venture was not exactly of a scale that was likely to bring down Google.

“But we will deliver a different type of search results. We’re not just crawling the web, content is being pushed from the ground up,” he said.

Additional reporting by Tarmo Virki

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