Many companies have tried to solve local, applying technological solutions to the problems facing local business promotion and discovery. Unfortunately, the local problem has proved to be extremely challenging. This is partly due to the businesses themselves, because they have enough day-to-day issues to worry about and aren’t very tech savvy. But the bigger reason is that selling to local business is very expensive. Even the tech IPO darling OpenTable has spent years and millions of dollars to get to 15,000 restaurants, and still has to fight to make a meager $2.6 million per quarter. The difference in the mobile + location internet age is that there is a potential to crowdsource the local business data (e.g. Yelp and Foursquare), and also make the onboarding process for local businesses much more seamless, potentially as simple as a smartphone app. Results may end up being as simple as geo-coupons, but I think we’ll see much more interesting things that that in this space.
I wrote previously about the four phases of the Internet, and how we’re approaching the Mobile (+ Location) Internet. As a follow up to that post, I wanted to explore some specific areas and opportunities with this new paradigm.
Education, Books and Information
We are in the midst of what I hope will prove to be the most transformative time in education since the advent of the classroom at the start of the industrial revolution. Various new models are emerging in education, but the mobile Internet opens new doors by making an essentially infinite amount of data and information readily available. As facts become increasingly available (just a quick google search away on your phone), education will shift to focus on concepts, methods, innovation, and synthesis, rather than the fact regurgitation so prevalent in today’s educational models. And of course, the trend will also serve to blow up the concept of a “book”, whether it merges with the Internet as O’Reilly predicts, or simply becomes disaggregated into more focused chapters or articles. Location in this case is less relevant, but mobile computing will permanently alter education and information sharing.
“Hard” Augmented Reality
One of the common threads with mobile based computing is augmented reality. This phrase usually conjures images of superimposed information or animations on the existing world, whether through the eyes and screen of a smartphone (e.g. Layar), or eventually in more integrated means like retina displays. Google Maps and Streetview are providing the scaffolding for this type of information in the physical world, so you’ll be able to pull up information about a business or a building simply by pointing your phone at it. Additionally, face recognition technology (e.g. Apple’s rumored acquisition of Polar Rose) will bring that type of functionality to people, perhaps pulling up their contact info and recent status posts when you greet them.
“Soft” Augmented Reality
But in addition to these map and 3D focused augmented reality, there are plenty of applications to improve day to day life that are really “augmented reality” but don’t appear to be. A great example is Shazam, which lets you find out the name of a song you’re listening to, solving the incredibly annoying problem of not knowing what a song is when you’re listening to it. (I hate to admit it, but I recently tagged a Justin Bieber song.) Many other “soft augmented reality” applications will emerge to make daily life more interesting, fun, and pleasant, without being obtrusive.
I myself and not a gamer (and I’m not personally addicted to the various game mechanics of today’s location based services), but it would be silly to not talk about the Gaming component of the current internet age. An omnipresent, location aware computer (i.e. smartphone), provides an incredible device to integrate the real world with gaming. It’s the core thesis of SCVNGR. I certainly see mobile + location internet enabling the “gamification” of life, and we’ll see to what extent, hopefully we don’t end up amusing ourselves to death.
These are just some of the trends and opportunities emerging with the mobile + location internet. And given that the stakes are higher, the user base bigger, and the technology easier than ever to adopt, there’s little doubt that the winners in this age will be even bigger than those in ages past.