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GPS Mashups Are Going Nowhere

Mashups could happen for GPS devices--but there are obstacles to overcome

Some businesses have deployed location-aware applications to GPS-enabled phones and other devices for tasks such as field service, fleet management, and logistics. GPS data could theoretically be integrated into mashups, too--let's call those GPS mashups--but there are obstacles.

GPS-enabled phonesWireless carriers generally don't share the information generated by a phone's GPS chip--a user's longitude and latitude, in particular--or other network data that might be used to pinpoint a phone's location. Just getting GPS data can be difficult if not impossible for would-be mashup makers.

Yahoo hasn't created its own GPS-enabled applications for mobile phones, but that's mostly a reflection of the low number of GPS phones deployed, says Jeremy Kreitler, director of Yahoo Maps. "When the technology and related business matures," Kreitler says, "you can expect to see Yahoo extending its existing best-of-breed mapping and local search mobile applications to use GPS information."

Microsoft doesn't offer the ability to view data mashups on mobile phones that include real-time GPS data. But it does provide several mobile and developer applications. Microsoft has seen uptake of its Live Search on cell phones since the beta debut of Live Search in November. "We would love to see GPS more widely available but believe that we need to build mobile applications and platforms that work well both with and without GPS functionality," says Alex Daley, lead marketing manager for Microsoft's Virtual Earth business unit.

John L. Scott Real Estate has a proof-of-concept mobile version of its Virtual Earth-based property search tool but has some reservations about supporting it going forward. "We're still determining whether the product merits the required investment. I'm not yet convinced that there are a sufficient number of people using the Internet via mobile devices," says John Chang, who heads up the company's Internet business efforts. John L. Scott isn't building a GPS-based mashup application because it's expensive to develop and implement, Chang says. specializes in combining Internet mapping, turn-by-turn navigation, GPS tracking, digital photography, voice notes, GPS real estate, and location-based search. Its Map For PDA is a free mobile application that serves up location-based content to Windows Mobile smartphones, with or without GPS. It includes a custom-designed mobile Internet browser compatible with Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSN Virtual Earth, and Maps.

The software is still experimental, says SearchQuest founder Philippe Furlan. All current customers are users of Map For PDA. The content comes from the Internet. In an upcoming version, the software will be more open and external companies or individuals will be able to build location-based Web sites with mashups using SearchQuest's product. "This market is still very new, and the concept of developing mobile application at the enterprise level is not very mature," says Furlan.

For the near term, GPS mashups will have difficulty getting onto cell phones because of wireless carriers' policies about opening up their technology for third-party development. The certification process and business policies are rigorous--too big of an obstacle for the casual developer.

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