An article in the NY Times recently noted that the federal government in the US was promoting the inclusion of GPS in mobile devices. The new iPhone, several models of Blackberry, the Nokia N-series and other mobiles now include GPS out of the box.
The federal government has given mobile GPS vendors a huge lift over the past decade, by directing the wireless industry to use GPS technology to improve the odds of locating someone who calls 911 from a mobile phone. Now about half of the phones in the United States have GPS, according to Berg Insight, a research firm.
The GPS functionality on the new Google Maps for mobile devices running on my Blackberry 8310 Curve in Sri Lanka is more a party trick than serving any useful purpose. Resolution data on Colombo is useless for navigation, in map or satellite mode and the street level views aren’t available.
I have however used my Curve when roaming to locate places in two cities over the past month – Copenhagen and Salzburg in Austria. In both cases, street level data was available on Google Maps and especially in Salzburg, my Blackberry was an amazing way to plot a way out of the old city once you were wonderfully lost in its cobbled, mountain charm.
But in Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Defence has banned GPS devices in mobile phones. This means that you can’t buy any mobile device or mobile phone anymore with GPS built in, though it’s yet unclear whether it is illegal to purchase such a device and enable it on one of the networks in the country. In fact, this is precisely what I was told when I tried at first to buy my Blackberry from Dialog. I only got a Blackberry then because of someone I knew at Dialog, who saw my blog post and intervened. Last week, when I tried to buy a Blackberry for my wife from the Dialog store at Crescat (which up until that day had a Blackberry Curve advertised on its window display) I was told by the cashier that I could, only to be told immediately thereafter by the salesperson that I can’t and that all Blackberry devices were out of stock.
While Dialog needs to get its act together, the larger issue is that the MoD regulations, based on god knows what evidence that terrorists can and have used mobile phone based GPS to trigger IEDs in Sri Lanka, result in a market in which an increasing range of mobile phone models will be simply unavailable for consumers to purchase.
And that’s really sad.