Google's Latitude

Over the last few weeks I've been testing the new Google Latitude application, and have found it to be a useful tool. It allows users to locate "friends" - other contacts- and display these locations on their mobile phone via Google Maps. Latitude also allows the user to quickly get directions, and to search for nearby services.

Google has invested heavily in maps and location services, and in my view is trying to become the go-to place to find (and get directions to) just about anything. Moving this functionality to mobile devices will allow Google to generate revenue by providing "sponsored links", or paid-for adverts, in response to your location search. For example if I'm wandering around Covent Garden, London and I fancy a pizza, entering "pizza" into the Google maps application on my mobile will generate a list of nearby pizzerias. The ones at the top of the list will be sponsored links, as they are on the standard Google results page.

Providing search results and subsequently directions to shops and restaurants has to be a marketer's dream. Most adverts are passive- you see the advert on your PC and you probably aren't close to the shop or in this case pizzeria, or even thinking of pizza. However, when you're mobile and hungry that advert is much more likely to make you turn up and buy the product, especially if you're also given directions.

Location based services also work the other way round. By knowing your location, advertisers can target specific products towards you- for example, if you're walking down the high street at approximately lunch time, marketers could post an advert for a local restaurant on the webpage you're viewing, even if you're not directly searching for food outlets.

A recent application for Google's Android platform of mobile devices (e.g. Google G1) allows users to scan a barcode of a product- for instance an LCD TV -and the application will provide the price of the same LCD TV at the major on-line retailers. That's great, but it becomes much more powerful when you add location into the mix- not only could the application tell you where to buy the TV and its price, it can then direct you to nearby stores.

As location-based applications become more commonplace, services can be adapted to utilise them. One example could be to arrange taxi pick-ups- I could call for a taxi and then just carrying on walking or shopping. Using a location service, the taxi driver could find me and let me know when he (or she) is ready to collect me- I'd no longer need to wait in one place for the taxi to arrive.

Google Latitude isn't the first location aware service, others include FireEagle (Yahoo), Brightkite and Plazes (owned by Nokia). As the Market wakes up to LBS I'm sure it won't be the last.

Nicolas Jacquey
Rob Evans

Rob is the Group Head for Telecoms Sourcing for Western Europe and the Nordics and manages a team providing all aspects of Telecoms sourcing to Orange Business.  Rob owns the Commercial relationship with major carriers across Europe on behalf of Orange Business.  Cost reduction, re-negotiation, competitiveness and subsequent impact on country P&L are key activities that Rob drives across Western Europe.