People have been predicting for over a decade that location-based services are about to take off. A few of these applications (such as toll collection or GPS navigation) have seen widespread adoption for sometime, but up to this point there have been only pockets of adoption for the vast majority of LBSs. So why is now the time? A number of factors are in place. While some have been in place of over a decade, they were necessary but not sufficient. The sum total of all these factors together has created "critical mass.
1) E-911 (US) and E112 (Europe) - Way back in 2000 the FCC mandated that wireless carriers must be able to transmit the location of callers who dial 9-1-1. But it has taken the better part of a decade to reach ubiquity where now virtually all phones can report their own location to the carrier.
2) Widespread integration of GPS into phones - Over a quarter of all new phones have built-in GPS and the penetration is much higher in smart phones. That's several hundred million new GPS-enabled phones each year. GPS provides much more precise location data than the cell tower trilateration-based approach or other methods used in older phones.
3) Plunging cost of the devices - The era of cheap cell phones has been around for a few years and now very capable smart phones are very affordable. The era of almost free GPS is now also here. Driven by the very high volumes of GPS (over half a billion new devices this year) in phones, vehicles, and personal navigation devices, the cost of GPS has plummeted.
4) Plunging cost of mobile service - cellular service costs have dropped from dollars to pennies per minute.
5) Inexpensive or free Geographic Information Systems - The GIS systems that contain map data used to be very expensive proprietary systems that were used primarily for engineering or other high-end business applications. Google maps with APIs allowing mashups, and other online mapping services has changed all that. Basic GIS is now free.
6) Internet access on the cell phone - price of cellular data services has plunged.
7) Ubiquity of devices - Now almost everyone has a cell phone and many people are very comfortable using various mobile applications.
8) Maturity of location-based applications - Brand new location-based applications often emerge with many rough edges. We now have a critical mass of mature location-based services and applications that have been around for half a decade or more. Those are field tested and have dramatically improved.
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