There's been a lot of coverage
around about Google's
new friend finder, built into its Maps app for smartphones. The feature, called Latitude, is able to
share your location with friends that you select, and who also carry a
compatible mobile device (or laptop) with the app installed and a data
connection to Google's servers. This kind of service has lots of uses for the
enterprise, families, and among friends, and it seems like Google has added the
necessary controls to avoid the worst of the privacy issues. But the privacy issue has been discussed
and frankly it's hardly worth debating since usage is optional. Yes, you sacrifice privacy to use such a
service, but YOU choose can when it's
useful enough to be worth the privacy sacrifice, and turn it off at other
times. Seems simple. I make the same trade-off with my
toll-paying RFID tag.
So let's discuss the competitive implications
of this latest move, instead. Other firms, such as Loopt,
Networks in Motion, Wavemarket, OmniTRAKS, FindWhere, Motorola Rhino, Autodesk
have been offering various location tracking services for years, with the first
in the US consumer phone services popping
around 2005. Historically, the services were offered for prices of
$10/mo or more. Loopt offers their consumer service
through carriers for free or $4/mo, but Latitude is user-installed and free.
Now, it's no surprise that consumer-grade tracking services are offered for
free: consumers tend to like that price, and the providers can make revenue by
driving consumers to local business through advertising. But the free Google
application also threatens enterprise-grade tracking solutions, especially in
an era of cost-cutting. Like
enterprise-grade solutions, Google can display a map with the location of all
the tracked "friends" or staff on a PC as well as a phone. Zoinks! Looks like the bottom just fell out of the low end of the enterprise tracking market.
So, how do enterprise vendors "compete with free"? Well, so far, Latitude
cannot replace an elaborate employee tracking solution that records
breadcrumbs, integrates time-carding, optimal dispatch routing, offers
geo-fencing, and other high-end functions. The existing enterprise vendors can
compete quite well by offering premium features, integration into management
tools, and verticalized solutions that deliver
incremental value over the free services. How do you compete with a free
product? Offer a product that's worth more -- and which the free version can't easily copy.
Google's entry signals a tipping point for tracking, as
its brand penetration and price will push this type of service into many more
handsets. Since Latitude also works on laptops, we can expect much better
targeted location-aware advertising on our laptop Google searches,
too... whether that impresses you or creeps you
out. Bottom line is that the Twitter-types, who constantly update their network
with short text messages, can save themselves some typing with Latitude.
Privacy advocates will shun it, and others like me will manage it, enabling
Latitude when we need it, and shutting it off most of the day. However, in the long run, this can be quite good for competitors in the market who can successfully incorporate advanced features worth paying for. Let Google educate the market, and have demand for such apps in the enterprise level bubble up.