Interview: Tele Atlas talks GPS, LBS, and their Innovator Series

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BlackBerry MapsI have a confession to make: although I’m really interested in the future of GPS, and I excitedly follow all the latest news in LBS, I have yet to really incorporate it into my life. The reason? I haven’t (yet) seen an LBS application that makes so much sense for my lifestyle that I’d be stupid not to use it. That’s why BlackBerry Cool has been so intrigued by Tele Atlas’ Maps in Apps developer contest (officially announced earlier this week), which almost seems specifically designed to make me happy by helping to create the LBS application I always hoped to want. We had the very awesome opportunity last week to talk to Tele Atlas’ Darrin Wilkey about GPS, their Innovator Series, and what RIM is doing to help grow LBS.

BBCool: So what’s the big deal about GPS and LBS?

Darrin Wilkey: When you look at mapping, it’s really become a part of our everyday lives. Think about how many new cars have navigation systems. There’s been incredible growth in the personal navigation device market. Think about how ubiquitous maps are with the Internet. It’s really a part of our overall lifestyle and the way we get things done. An interesting thing is that from an install base perspective; some analysts are estimating that by 2010 there will be 30 million in-vehicle navigation systems in use, and the personal navigation market could get up to 100 million.

BBCool: Wow, that’s, over 3 times the population of Canada.

Darrin WilkeyDarrin Wilkey: (laughs) Well, this global, certainly. Maps are getting increasingly portable, and the infrastructure is finally being put in place to make wireless mapping and all the associated services broadly available. You look at things like increasing processing power in devices, more network bandwidth, smaller form factors for chips and even the devices themselves, the E911 mandates that are driving a lot of this GPS integration. The great thing is that handset manufacturers are really starting to make mapping the standard application on devices, and BlackBerry kind of lead the industry in that regard with BlackBerry Maps. Since then, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others have started using Tele Atlas Maps in their devices. Then we start thinking about the infrastructure and the sheer numbers… we’ve already hit 3 billion mobile devices in the marketplace.

BBCool: So then what value do you think LBS applications bring to the mobile user?

Darrin Wilkey: If you think about how much mapping is used today, more people have phones than they have computers. Some analysts say that by 2010, 250 million devices will be GPS-enabled, with upwards of 150 million LBS users. So, when you start thinking about how location can enhance a user’s experience, not only is it “Where am I?” and “What’s around me?” and “How do I get there?”, which is where we are today with the LBS mobile experience, but map content is going to be increasingly transferable between devices. The idea of user-created content is going to be huge. Even things as simple as location-enhanced shopping… “Where am I? I need to purchase this product. Where is it? What store has it in inventory? How long does it take me to get there?”

BBCool: I’ve been kind of interested in location-based integration in social networking. Say, on your LiveJournal blog or MySpace page, when you’re talking about happened on your day, you’re pulling in Google Maps information tracking where you went. The post itself could be the map tagged with text… “When I was to this store I saw this friend.”

Darrin Wilkey: You’re absolutely right. In fact, there’s a company out there right now called Loopt that’s launched on the Boost network, and they are a social networking application where you can do exactly that. It’s very secure, and you only let people in your network that you trust, and you can find out where they are. You can also tag comments to specific geo-referenced places. So, if you go to a really nice pub, you can say, “Hey, I’m hanging out at the pub, it’s awesome,” and you can share that information with your friends. It’s also a way of using the rating system of these locations. You bring up the good point that increasingly, content is going to be geo-referenced or geo-searchable, and not just made available from some giant corporation; it’s all the user-generated content that will help you make better decisions.

Think about something as simple as an event, and all the repercussions that a concert or large sporting event has on traffic, restaurants, parking, all the resources around that area. Location information can completely enhance a user’s experience, in getting to the concert, finding a parking spot, avoiding traffic, meeting up with friends… Even though the infrastructure is starting to get in place now, with network speeds and all the other stuff, it’s really meaningless unless the really cool applications that are continually rolling out to get customers interested in it.