FEATURE: Adding location to your apps

[Intel sponsored feature] How can you take advantage of location-based app tech?
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[Intel sponsored feature] How can you take advantage of location-based app tech?

One of the key changes we’ve seen in software in the last few years is the way that location is integrated into the software.

When applications were stuck on computers that were stuck on desks, there wasn’t much call for location information. Unless you were doing something highly specialist, like designing a road, you didn’t really need to use geographic information at all. An address book was about as complicated as it got.

Now that devices can go anywhere, and are often a good indicator of where their owner is, we’ve seen an explosion in the way that location is used in software.

Many devices are location-aware, and that creates all kinds of new possibilities for gathering and using geographic data. For example:

• Mapping and directions. The basic practice of finding your way around the country can be made much easier with tailored maps and directions. When we visit a website now, we expect to find a link to an interactive map that we can browse around to help us find our bearings. Content-led apps, such as restaurant directories, could benefit greatly by incorporating live maps and directions data. It’s even more useful when current traffic information or other transportation data is overlaid on top, so that we can take into account any conditions that might vary the journey time. Or better still, the app can do it for us.

• Recording routes taken. Fitness fanatics can share the route or distance metrics from their daily jog, for example.

• Tagging data with a location where it was created. I find this particularly useful for photos, but it’s increasingly used for social network posts, such as tweets, too. The place where something was created is often an important part of its metadata.

• Providing point of interest information. Where’s the nearest petrol station? Things like that matter when you’re out and about much more than they do when you’re sat at your desk. Combining mapping information with information on the user’s location has completely transformed how we get directions and find helpful and entertaining points of interest. As in-vehicle infotainment goes mainstream, I expect we’ll see this become a much bigger part of how we use geographic information.

• Finding friends. Apple’s just launched an app called Find my Friends, which enables people to see where their friends are. It’s strictly opt-in, as you would expect, but it’s the kind of technology that’s been promised for a long time by GPS advocates and is only now coming to fruition. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility: one story online concerns a man who caught his wife cheating using Find my Friends, an ethics and legal nightmare because he reportedly opted her in without her consent.

• Using the environment for entertainment and education. Augmented reality apps overlay new information on top of what the camera sees at a given location. It can be used for gaming (shoot zombies in the street!) or education (get key facts on architecture and the history of the area).

I’m sure there are many other ways to use location too. Feel free to leave examples of your favourites in the comments below.

One reason I was prompted to think of this was that Intel has acquired Telmap, which means developers who are part of the Intel AppUp developer program will be able to incorporate location-based services from Telmap in their apps. At the Intel AppUp Elements 2011 event in Seattle a few weeks ago, Peter Biddle, general manager of AppUp products and services, said that the aim is to give developers advanced location capabilities using just a few lines of code.

Acquiring Telmap could be a smart move for Intel. As it competes for developers’ attention, one thing that will carry a lot of weight will be how easy it is to develop apps for Intel’s app store. If Intel can make it simple to develop location-based apps, then it’s bound to attract more developers who need to embed location into their software.

This blog post is written by Softtalkmobile, and is sponsored by the Intel AppUp developer program, a single channel for distributing apps to multiple devices, multiple operating systems, and multiple app stores.