Category Archives: GPS

Google Maps goes indoors … ooh, look, a sale!

The Holy Grail of marketing is the ability to influence consumers when they finally go into purchase mode — and today, in 2011, after all our decades of advertising influence, we still can’t do that. Walk into a wine shop or Victoria’s Secret and there is no voice whispering in your ear saying, please, buy this instead. Some mobile apps attempt this but most are cumbersome, filled with game mechanics of points and mayorships. Joe Sixpack is just too serious to adopt Foursquare games.

Google gets closer by bringing its Maps feature indoors. Users of Android handsets can boot up layouts of airports, malls, or stores (all in staged rollout) such as Home Depot and Macy’s. Google claims the GPS system is tuned tightly enough that it can even recognize your position if you move up or down levels in a store or mall with multiple floors.

If adoption takes off — dang, we want it already on our iPhone — consumers will tap a platform built for last-minute marketing offers. Tie it with a database on your preferences and value (information Google in partnership with merchants could access), and personalized offers designed to influence only you could finally arrive. “Turn right off the escalator, dear, instead of left. The lingerie is on sale, 50% off, but only if we walk in now.”

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Web appliancification: Why new cars have old GPS

To understand the future of the web, look at the dashboard of this 2010 Toyota 4Runner. It’s sweet. Studly. And it has an old, outmoded GPS system.

For years the 4Runner has been one of Consumer Reports’ top-rated SUVs, so when Toyota redesigned it recently manly men were intrigued. It has strong lines, influenced by the blocky FJ Cruiser, and some clever improvements such as an overhead console allowing quick tweaks to 4-wheel-drive traction.

The new electrical network

And this is the challenge of the modern Internet. The 4Runner has an old GPS model with a flat 2-D map that shows your pinpoint crawling across it. No 3-D images of the roads looming ahead such as you’ll find in modern $100 units from TomTom or free from Google on a Droid cell phone. This little design problem is endemic across all auto brands, even among the upscale BMWs and Jaguars, because automakers fill their production pipelines years in advance of a car getting to market. When this car was actually sketched back in say 2006, the GPS system was state of the art. Now, in 2010, we have a brand new SUV with technology years behind the curve.

We call this web appliancification — or the constant improvements in devices that plug into global information systems. The Internet was once a vast wilderness that could only be accessed with a specialized device called a “web browser,” but now it’s turning into an information electrical grid, where you can plug in any device and it will work in a device-specific way. Josh Bernoff over at Ad Age calls it the “Splinternet” and suggests that after a golden age of 15 years in which we all used one window to get online, we’re now approaching an era with splinters of connectivity working on gadgets that have incompatible formats. This is true both from a hardware perspective — cell phones, smart phones, tablets, laptops, netbooks, GPS units, and web-based appliances — and in content ecosystems.

The ecosystem battle is most interesting because this is where the big money lies — including the billions of dollars in advertising spent each year chasing ecosystem audiences. The Apple iPad doesn’t play Flash video formats, because Steve Jobs wants you to buy video through his iTunes store — an ecosystem for music and now books and film. The Kindle is tied into Amazon’s competing ecosystem. Hulu wants to own TV viewers, Twitter your future connections, Facebook your past friends, Netflix your film entertainment, Google your commercial searches, Microsoft your work tools, Rupert Murdoch your paid news. In essence, the 1990s “portal” strategy in which content producers fought to find ways to lock in their customers is back, alive and well.

This pressure of micronetworks vying to control your online life has created a new brand rush of content positioning. Why has Google launched a cell phone? Because it wants to lock in audiences in the emerging mobile channel. Consumers have only so many modes — entertainment, news, work, friends. There can only be a few leaders for each modality. The challenge for marketers is as devices continue to shift, our connections to these new online portals mutate quickly too. It’s very hard to maintain market leadership in an information ecosystem when the gadgets that hold the keys keep transforming. The risk for your business is no matter how solid your product, like Toyota, your information appeal to consumers may get left on the road behind.

New film of the Hudson plane landing: Virtual history

We hate to replay Wired but this is worth seeing. (Forward the video above to 1:21 to get the real kick.) Kas Osterbuhr, an engineer at K3 Resources, has built an incredible virtual recording of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 taking off, being hit by geese and then splashing into the Hudson, complete with actual voiceover from air-traffic control. Osterbuhr is a specialist in data visualization and points us to a future when real events could be replayed from any angle, thanks to the GPS and other devices tracking the location of everything. No matter if cameras weren’t present to record it; a little data augmentation, and you can watch history anyway.

Wired has details here, and Osterbuhr has additional views here.

iPhone subways: Augmented reality gets real

Augmented reality is one of the themes of William Gibson’s recent book Spook Country, in which high-tech renegades overlay ghostly images on real-world locations to create “locative art,” visible via special glasses. You know, like the dead body of a famous writer floating in the street, showing the scene from the moment he died.

The idea of the internet overlaying reality is becoming concrete. Now an iPhone 3GS app by Acrossair, above, points you to the nearest subway station, with ghostly arrows telling you which way and how far to walk. The technology that makes this work is all logical — a combination of the phone’s video screen, GPS locator, and accelerometer — but the result seems magic.

Coolhunter Tom Ajello has a detailed profile of other augmented-reality mobile applications here.

Via Brandflakes.

Google to advertisers: The consumer is here!

Google moves closer to just-in-time, just-in-your-space advertising with the new opt-in Latitude program. On the surface, Latitude is a GPS-based social networking service allowing you to easily find the location of family and friends. The service replaces Dodgeball, which Google purchased a few years back, and competes with other mobile-phone-based location services such as Brightkite or Vodafone’s new Pocket Life. Our personal favorite is the almost-guerrilla project, which plasters real yellow arrows on locations with texting codes that allow you to dial in and get information about what you’re seeing — sort of a here-you-are-so-you-are-now-here loop.

Marketers of course are agog at the possibility of reaching you with messages as you approach the closest Starbucks or shopping mall. Now, with services such as Google, not only might marketers see where you are, but they could begin drawing connections between your geographic wanderings and those of your friends. We tried to figure out the privacy parameters reading Google’s terms of service; um, it’s a bit thick. The key points seem to be that Google can use any information gleaned from your observed behavior to serve ads, and change the terms at any time:

17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.

17.2 The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.

17.3 In consideration for Google granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Google may place such advertising on the Services.

Well, hey, that’s fair — Google is giving you huge value for free, consumers, so expect to be tracked. And take it all with a grain of salt. Back in 1999, in another life, we came across a marketing plan for a major handset manufacturer that would have sent text messages to consumers with coupon offers as they drove past exits to large shopping centers. Didn’t quite take off. We’ll see if consumers want to receive push messages on phones as they pull their friends across the map.

A year of edits in OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative, user-generated project similar to Wikipedia in which volunteers can upload GPS data on road locations — creating perhaps the world’s most accurate map. The video above shows one year of edits from users around the globe (with white flashes showing map edit uploads). It’s a brilliant snapshot of collective intelligence at work, with a bit of dark irony: all this labor was done amidst a global recession for free.

Video animation by

Why Twitter’s lifespan is limited

Social media researcher Danah Boyd notes the iPhone may be the tipping point for social media in mobile, creating cluster effects in which groups of people can step beyond 1to1 interaction to all do the same thing. In simple terms, mobile devices today are hamstrung by being one-on-one devices — I can call or text you, and you me, but there are very few ways (other than Twitter) for groups of like-minded people to harmonize together.

The iPhone will change that because it is the first mobile device to build critical mass as the same software platform with the same wireless carrier.

So where does this lead? Expect to see a series of social media “hubs” emerging on your cell phone:

1. Faux web.
Initially, we’ll get rough translations from current tools on the internet. Think Twitter on the your cell, followed by Facebook.
2. Mini hubs. But mobile hubs will then open the doors to entire new social media platforms. Think of cab drivers creating their own SM hub to share news and traffic in major cities.
3. Wireless locks. Wireless carriers will sniff an opportunity to, yes, try to lock you in. The wireless industry has battled customer churn for years, and just as today’s “rollover minutes” and termination charges are all positive or negative attempts to stop you from switching from Sprint to T-Mobile, wireless social media hubs will be irresistible tools for carriers. Expect to see AT&T and Verizon launching social media mobile portals, and trying to fill these walled gardens.
4. More ads. Advertisers, having difficulty with poor mobile response rates, will try to leverage emerging mobile hubs as a new ad format.
5. Unexpected success. Eventually, some kid in a garage will break through with the new killer app. Mobile devices have vastly new potential, especially location-detection services today and two-way video transmission tomorrow. GPS and video create a much more personal way to communicate; today’s stars, Twitter and Facebook, use neither and so will not win on mobile.

We can’t wait to see where this goes. As Danah Boyd notes, we’re all growing a bit bored, so please, carriers and developers, don’t screw this up.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

Why is Google advertising outdoors?

Google is now running transit ads in San Francisco and Chicago to promote its Maps program, which is steadily gaining market share at the expense of MapQuest. “Because they’ve been extending their portfolio of solutions, there’s now a mass of things they offer that perhaps many people haven’t gotten to know about,” Nigel Hollis, top analyst at Millward Brown, told AdAge.

The outdoor media push may indicate Google thinks Maps will be a killer mobile app — the first main tool consumers will use when they finally get handy with GPS on their cell phones. The internet is becoming untethered, and you can dial in from your hip. But if you’re standing outside, you’ll need good old billboards to trigger the message.

Via Shelton.

Look at the map, honey, there’s a Google news alert

Yeah, some days we get tired of writing about Google’s innovations, but the addition of news to Google Earth is a landmark in journalism. Google has added a feature to its free 3-D mapping program that allows you to click “news” as a layer, and then zoom in to areas around the world and see headlines and articles pop up.

The revolution here is the addition of geo-location to timeliness and relevance. Viewers can take an almost God-like stance, swooping down on the planet to peruse the latest happenings of mankind. Perhaps a hint of things to come on your cell phone, as Google Android and other software makers add GPS location to the features that serve up content, communications and ads. You also get a whiff of why old newsprint can’t compete for consumers’ hunger for information, right now, right down the street.

Confluence hunting: The invisible search outside

Talk about globetrotters.

The cheerful Russians about to drink wine in this photo 3.6 kilometers west-southwest of Mitropol’ye, Tambovskaya oblast’, Russia, are smiling because they’ve marched to exactly 53°N 42°E, one of the invisible “confluence points” on the surface of planet Earth where the lines of latitude and longitude intersect exactly.

You see, not counting intersection points in the middle of the ocean, there are 16,232 “confluences” on land or just off the coast where a GPS device will zero-out — putting you exactly at the X-marks-the-spot of those lines on grade school globes. Like 13°N 8°W in Mali. 37°N 22°E in Greece. Or this sweet, sweet home at 46°N 0° in France. Since New Hampshire resident Alex Jarrett founded the confluence web project in 1996, 10,405 people in 177 countries have uploaded 71,929 photos to prove they found a latitude and longitude touchpoint.

Outside magazine notes in its June issue that if this all sounds a bit silly, the same can be said for other arbitrary numerical events, such as New Year’s Eve or celebrating the recent change of the millennium. Humans react to numbers. The same thing that makes consumers buy magazines with 8 Rules of Love or 630 Fabulous Fashions makes mountain height, or GPS location, or time of year seem important. It’s a good refresher for your advertising creative: Have you been using numerical offers to stimulate response?

Footnote: If you want to confluence hunt, make sure you take a photo without yourself in the frame. The people have a rule that your picture can’t include humans, only the landscape. Sorry, Russians, you’re going to have to hike back to that field.