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SXSW: Location, location, location fuels mobile apps

Cameron Scott | March 14, 2012
Soon FourSquare won't be the only cool kid on the location-based apps block: A new wave of startups, including Highlight, Zaarly, TaskRabbit and Localmind, are generating buzz at South by Southwest by drawing on smartphone location data to deliver a range of social, commercial and informational experiences.

"We are much more like a mobile, optimized, well-lit Craigslist than anything else," co-founder and CEO Bo Fishback said.

So will the location-based apps change the mobile landscape or are they a flash in the pan? One factor that has the potential to slow growth is user concern over privacy protections.

Location data has opened up a flood of innovation, but has also raised concern among privacy advocates and privacy-sensitive users.

The new class of apps obtain location data in a variety of ways. Highlight, which launched at SXSW, gets GPS data directly from the user's mobile phone. TaskRabbit and Zaarly use GPS data from phones, but can also run in a desktop browser. Other location-based apps build on location data gleaned from user-submitted content on social networks including FourSquare, Facebook and Twitter.

Annette Zimmermann, an analyst at Gartner, said that privacy is an issue in most of the location-based apps, which, she said, "do not have the transparency that one should wish for consumers, so that they understand clearly when they share their location and with whom."

Still, while users say they're concerned about privacy, their online behaviors usually don't reflect it, she said. If the apps make consumers' lives easier and if they are game-like enough to get users hooked, they'll be popular, she said.


 

 

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