Apple has nothing over Google when it comes to knowing where you really are

First, sorry I’ve been so quiet but if you’ve been tracking me on Foursquare you know I was over in Amsterdam with Dave Winer and tons of other people speaking at the Next Web. My speech is now up. My thesis? The Next Web = Humans + Reality + Virtuality. Reality is largely studied by studying where we are, so onto this post.

Ryan Kim over on GigaOm has an interesting post about why Android location data is so important to Google.

But he didn’t go far enough. Did you know that on Android apps can talk to your phone’s radios? And that those same APIs are NOT available on Apple or Microsoft’s platforms?

What does this do? It lets you crowd-source the wireless map of signals in a room. See, if you didn’t know this you can figure out what room of my house you are in just by looking at the WIFI signal. I’ve used an app called Walkbase to demonstrate just how this works. Here’s a video with the founders behind Walkbase.

Using it we could tell we had moved location, even indoors.

How? Well they are looking at the AGPS (Assisted GPS) signals that come off of cell phone towers to help your phone locate itself indoors and also the WIFI signals. Most of the time I was walking around Amsterdam last week, for instance, there were usually at least four WIFI hotspots my phone was seeing. That’s more than enough to build a map of where you are in much more precision than if you only had cell phone data.

Why is this important? Well, Ryan nailed some of it. But, Google is an intent-satisfaction system if you think about it long enough. Certainly its advertising arm is. What do I mean? Well, if you intend to buy a Nikon camera today Google can help you with that. Or, if you intend to eat dinner tonight at a great sushi place in San Francisco Google can help you with that too.

What’s some intent that Google hasn’t been able to help you with? Well, when you walk into a store, for instance, you did that with some intent. So, now that Google knows you’re in a very specific store it could serve you new kinds of advertising and if it tracked you over time it would get better and better at suggesting things to you.

Scary, huh? Well, not to me. I love that I’ll get better experiences and advertising in the future due to my cell phone choice. This is why it’s so important to Google.

Comments

  1. With any mobile device, we have to assume that somebody knows (or can find out) where we are. Having said that, it is not cool if any application running in the background can listen and track where I am continuously without my permission. My guess is that Google will add features to Android that will allow users to control which apps can access these radio signals (and when).

  2. With any mobile device, we have to assume that somebody knows (or can find out) where we are. Having said that, it is not cool if any application running in the background can listen and track where I am continuously without my permission. My guess is that Google will add features to Android that will allow users to control which apps can access these radio signals (and when).

  3. In the same fashion, advertising could change if you are in your kitchen, living room or bedroom as well. Another layer of validity could be added in if it knew what you are watching on TV, what commercials have been played recently or what room/location you just came from. For example if I had just picked up groceries and go on my phone to look up recipes in the living room perhaps I see an ad that says, don’t feel like cooking tonight, come to our restaurant instead. If I am in the kitchen though perhaps the ad is based around something I may have forgotten at the store or a coupon for something I just bought to keep my loyalty. Technology in the right hands has great possibilities!