At the time I last wrote about the potential of location aware web / mobile mashups and services, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence disallowed the sale of GPS enabled mobile phones. That seems to have changed in the past month. Airtel and Dialog both sport the Blackberry Bold, which has in built GPS, and Dialog’s Crescat shop now showcases the Blackberry Curve 8310 again – which was taken off the market because it also had in built GPS.
I find GPS and location aware services fascinating. In the insecure environment for human rights defenders and other NGO staff in Sri Lanka, this sort of technology potentially holds much value in tracking staff movement in high risk areas. Brightkite.com on the iPhone pretty much defines this genre of software. The iPhone’s UI coupled with the social networking and location aware services of Brightkite open up a range of possibilities that were unimaginable just a year or two ago.
Google’s now got in the act with Google Latitude. Unlike Brightkite.com which is only available on the iPhone, Google Latitude works on:
- Android-powered devices, such as the T-Mobile G1
- most color BlackBerry devices
- most Windows Mobile 5.0+ devices
- most Symbian S60 devices (Nokia smartphones)
with support for iPhone and iPod touch devices and many Java-enabled (J2ME) mobile phones, such as Sony Ericsson devices coming soon.
Google’s video on Latitude sums it up nicely.
I’ve used Google Maps on my Blackberry Curve 8310 (with GPS), the 8320 (without GPS) and now on the Bold (with GPS) and have been blown away by its accuracy in cities where location data is on Google down to street level. In Copenhagen, I was able to find my hotel just by using it. In Salzburg, I was able to find Mozart’s birthplace using it and the most heavenly chocolate gateaux I’ve had from a local patisserie. It’s fast on the Curve and faster on the Bold.
With Latitude built in, the version number on the Blackberry goes up to 3.0 from 2.3.x. One annoying thing is that you have to sign into Latitude even though I have Google Chat running on my Bold. Given that I have an over 15 character alpha-numeric-symbolic password that I can’t even remember off-hand, it’s a pain to type it in all over again. And at the time of writing this, Latitude fails to verify my mobile number, despite several attempts.
Not that these glitches detract from what can be a very cool tool. As the video shows, you add friends and you can then follow them as they meander through their cities. It’s a bit weird to be tracked thus, and it’s a relief to find privacy settings that allow you to update location data manually. For the moment, I’ve put it on automatic, to see how well GPS works in Sri Lanka. Proximity alerts I guess will only ever work with street level data sets, not yet available here.
The neat thing about Latitude is that it allows for web based tracking of mobile phone location information. As the screenshot from my iGoogle shows, you get a Latitude gadget that links to a Google Maps mash-up. Very cool. Potential uses for this for real time election violence monitoring, IDPs and refugee movement tracking, Human Rights and Ceasefire monitoring, peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and disaster management are impressive and beg to be explored.