Geo-location apps that go beyond the ‘check in’

The popularity of geo-location apps has been increasing steadily, with the ability to “check in” becoming ubiquitous. But the trend toward checking in and letting everyone know where you are may soon fade, giving way to apps that use geo-location for more useful purposes, like saving money or finding a home.

These apps use a GPS chip, nearest cell tower, or mapped Wi-Fi hot spots to find your location. Then, depending on the nature of the app, it will let you know what’s around you, or let others know where you are.

“geo-location apps and solutions is a hot area of the market where we expect to see growth in the coming years as the number of mobile devices continues to grow,” says Krista Napier a senior analyst at IDC Canada. “This year will also mark the point where smartphone shipments and install base surpasses that of traditional cell phones.”

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The geo-location method is proving useful for social influence marketing-the idea that we buy things or use services that our friends buy or use. But similar apps with a more useful purpose are frequently emerging and they may be longer-lasting.  

Clip Mobile is an application that accesses your location through GPS when the app is launched. It will then tell you about any deals that nearby businesses are offering. Users can set the app to locate businesses within various distances, but the default setting is 10 km.  Clip currently has about 220 businesses with more than 600 locations in its database. It’s available for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android smartphones. 

Apps that use GPS leave some people fearful that revealing their location might be unsafe. David Offierski, founder of Clip, says he has made the conscious decision to be on the “right side” of sharing. His app knows where the user is, but not who he or she is.

“We are testing the limits of over-sharing,” says Offierski of the popularity of apps like Foursquare. “I think the standards for sharing location information and location privacy are not yet really in place and not well understood,” he says.  

Josh Sookman, co-creator of Guardly, is using geo-location to improve safety, rather than compromise security, as some people might fear. Guardly, he says, came from recognizing his first cell phone’s original purpose when he was a teenager – to be used in case of an emergency.

The idea of his app is to have a personal safety network built into your phone, along with the proper authorities, like police and ambulance services. Sookman gives the example of a 55-year-old man living on the 40th floor of an apartment building, who suddenly suffers from a heart attack.

He can use the Guardly app to alert his personal safety network and his phone will dial 9-1-1. The people in his network will each receive an SMS and e-mail. The friends in his network would all also be alerted in a conference call, so if needed, they can decide who is in the best position to respond.

In the time it might take emergency service workers to reach his building and get to his floor, his neighbour may be able to reach him and deliver CPR. The app, Sookman points out, can be accessed with three taps of an iPhone-calling 9-1-1 takes eight-and it calls several people at once.

Your personal safety network can be tailored to your specific location as well. One man’s network at home may include his neighbours; at his office, maybe a friend who lives nearby.

Sookman maintains that the app is safe, since it only accesses your location during an emergency and doesn’t give out your location to people outside your network and emergency services.

It’s also critical for the app to access your location, especially in case you can’t speak. Emergency service dispatchers can find your location if you’re calling from a landline phone, but with mobile services, the process is a lot more complicated and even then, cannot always pinpoint a caller’s location.

Sookman recognizes the appeal of sharing your location, but the bad reputation these apps get is uncalled for, he says. “You need to look at the benefits. I don’t think that all geo-location apps should be put into that bucket.”

Harmeet Singh is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness. Follow her on Twitter, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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