DENVER (Billboard) - Wireless carriers appear poised to deliver on what the mobile industry has long seen as its holy grail — location-based services.
Today’s mobile phones can provide remarkably specific location data to their users through a combination of embedded GPS chips and network-based cell-tower data. It’s a feature that holds great promise for commercial applications by providing the ability to deliver to mobile phone users information, entertainment and advertising tailored to their location.
Potential applications could be as simple as alerting fans when artists listed as their favorite on Facebook are appearing in their area, or offering them a discount on the album if they walk by a participating record store. Others can be more complicated, such as using music as a filter on mobile location-based dating services, or enabling members of a text-message fan club to find each other at concerts.
There are opportunities for the touring business as well, such as providing directions to a venue where an artist might be playing a surprise show, or less aggressive applications such as listing all the gigs scheduled in a user’s immediate area.
Few location-sensitive services have made it to the mass market due to the lack of a common location technology among U.S. wireless carriers and concerns that sharing their customers’ location data with a service provider could trigger privacy complaints.
But in the closing months of 2008, two leading carriers made decisive moves to provide location-based services, otherwise known as LBS, to developers in an effort to jump-start the market.
Verizon Wireless, which first promised to cooperate with application developers a year ago, said it would provide developers GPS data from three of its Windows Mobile smart phones — Samsung’s Omnia and Saga and HTC’s Touch Pro.
Sprint is providing its location data to the aggregators WaveMarket and uLocate, which will then offer it to developers interested in creating applications for their respective platforms. The aggregators say they’ll meet Sprint’s security and privacy requirements.
Thanks to these moves, industry experts expect to see the number of new LBS applications entering the market each year to surge from a handful to the hundreds.
“If you wanted to launch a location-aware app before, you had to strike a deal with the carrier, which is a brutal process,” said Joel Grossman, vice president of marketing and product management for WaveMarket. “That’s a hassle not only for developers, but for carriers, because it’s not scalable for them. I think you’ll see the business pressures on other carriers will lead them to adopt a more open solution as well.”
AT&T plans to launch an LBS infrastructure in early 2009, although it has provided no details yet. T-Mobile’s plans remain unknown.
What does this mean for the music industry? Grossman said WaveMarket is already working with several labels he declined to identify to develop LBS applications for new album releases and marketing plans.
Label sources admitted that they are only now starting to scratch the surface of any potential LBS applications, which to date revolve mainly around coupons and contests. Jive/Zomba said it is exploring using the technology in an upcoming David Archuleta campaign.
Island Def Jam created an iPhone app for Fall Out Boy that lets members find each other if they want to, something senior vice president of new media and commerce Christian Jorg said could become more common in the year ahead.
“I think we have a better shot this year (because) we’re seeing people make a bigger commitment,” Jorg said. “We’re expanding what we try to do on mobile. It’s part of offering more services to make mobile overall more interesting to consumers and more fun.”