Location based services have been around for a number of years in the research community. They were always fun to build and excellent research vehicles but needed something to change before hitting the streets. Well, now we’re beginning to carry GPS enabled devices these services have hit the mainstream. I regularly use Yelp and Around Me on the iPhone to find local restaurants, gas stations, and coffee shops. The integration with the maps application is a fantastic coupling. Now Google have released their search services with the “Near me now” service (iPhone and Andriod in US only).
Location data for these applications is usually derived from GPS readings but it is not limited to that. You can use wifi spotting, video capture, parse user calendars or discover location by inference (I am near Alice and Alice knows where she is so I can find where I am). But in practice are these other inputs really required? Or are they all part of a larger model of the real world?
Location based services are a manifestation of pervasive computing in the real world. Next will come more complex context aware services with social aspects and recommendations. I’ve oft heard the question “who will pay for the infrastructure for pervasive computing?”. I think the answer is still “we will” but now you can add “and already are”.