by Chandler Harris
While location-based services have
been around for some time, it wasn’t until the iPhone came along that LBS
became not only a buzzword, but a business concept enabling start-ups to
accumulate users and funding. Google
and Facebook have followed the lead
of companies like Foursquare, Booyah and Buzzd to create mobile LBS presences that are quickly gaining
traction as popular tools.
The sector is based on a conflux of GIS, mobile technology
and social networking referred to as “the intersection of cyberspace and the real world”
by Buzzd. The number of LBS installations on smartphones is projected to rise
to 81 million in 2010, a whopping increase from 8 million in 2009, according to
iSuppli Corp. By 2014 that number is
expected to increase to 297 million. LBS revenues are projected to hit $912
million this year and $2.8 billion in 2015, according to researcher Frost and Sullivan.
LBS = Jobs
Opportunities in LBS are growing for tech professionals experienced
with mobile platforms, software engineering and mapping technologies.
Frost and Sullivan divides LBS into two categories: consumer
and business. Consumer LBS include information (navigation/mapping), security (children finders), social
networking (friend finders, local discovery and “check in” gaming)
and entertainment (location-based games). Business solutions are segmented into
mobile workforce management or mobile asset management services that use GPS
and wireless to locate, track, and manage mobile workers, their tasks, and/or
mobile assets like vehicles.
“Clearly, it’s a growing market being driven
by a number of factors including easy
availability via smartphone application
storefronts offering thousands of different LBS solutions, powerful technology
and the transition from monthly subscriptions to free or one-time-fee pricing,”
the company says.
On the consumer side, the latest LBS fad is “check-in” mobile
phone sites that companies like Foursquare, Brightkite, Buzzd and Booyah are building businesses around.
Brightkite allows users to check in at a location and discover what
members of a social network are present, who was there previously and what’s
happened there recently. The company has 20 employees
and expects to hire five more this year.
Buzzd aggregates data from popular sites such as Twitter,
Foursquare and Gowalla to reveal the
most popular venues in a city at a particular time. The company has 12
employees but is growing rapidly and looking for engineers skilled in
location-based searches and managing large volumes of data.
“The three buzzwords are mobile, social and location, and the companies that combine
them the best will win,” says Glen Straub,
director of partnership marketing at Buzzd.
Booyah’s “MyTown” is a social networking game for
mobile phones that has about 2.5 million users. The company, which was founded
in August 2008, currently has 35 employees and expects to hire 10 more by year’s
end, including a lead game designer, Android engineer, business development
manager, server engineer, website developer, QA engineer, Flash developer,
Flash designer, UI artist and game artist.
Business Applications, Too
On the business side, ESRI
has a long history of providing GIS services and sees the growing LBS industry as
a boon. The company has 2,700 employees and is currently hiring programmers
with extensive experience in C++, Java, .NET,
Silverlight, SharePoint, 3D, mobile technology, and UNIX/Linux for its Java, Mobile, Web, 3D and
ArcGIS Engine engineering teams.
Another firm, Socialight
allows businesses and individuals to create LBS mobile phone platforms. The
company is profitable with six employees and expects to expand to 15 by the end
of this year, then add about 15 more next year. Most of the positions will be
engineers experienced with development in platforms including HTML 5, as well
as GIS technologies.
“Anybody looking at programming for the Internet is not
going to go wrong steering toward mobile and especially HTML 5,” says Rahul Sonnad, CEO for Geodelic,
which enables companies to engage with customers based on
location. “For us, the industry is huge.”
Chandler Harris is a business and technology writer based in California.