Location Craze Continues, But At What Cost?

In an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday, the topic of geolocation and its inclusion in everyday mobile apps outside the buzz-filled realm of startups like Foursquare and Gowalla was discussed, citing advances in location-enabling solutions like Skyhook Wireless.

Skyhook is looking to expand the location trend to any individual application on your phone through its SDK and strategic partnerships with other app development tools such as AppMakr.  AppMakr, for example, has powered more than 6,200 apps for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, and will soon add easy location-based integration from Skyhook to the mix for brands wanting an easy entrance into the location space.

Four apps, including music app Sharetunes and wine app Drync, also introduced services on Thursday built with Skyhook’s SDK, “Local Faves.”  The moves by Skyhook and the development of apps using its technology raises the question of just how ubiquitous location-sharing will be, and whether brands will look to connect with customers on their own or use networks like Foursquare or Twitter.

“I do think location will become an integral part of all mobile applications and services, but companies with strong brands might eventually be motivated to collect location data on their own,” says Julie Ask, a vice president at Forrester Research. “There really has to be benefit in the size of the network of a third-party app like a Foursquare …”

This once again raises the question of fragmented location-data and what happens when numerous services, startups and the big players like Google are all building separate location or “places” databases to utilize for LBS apps.

Skyhook, for example, gathers information on the location of Wi-Fi access points by deploying drivers with WiFi-detection equipment.   A Skyhook driver, for instance, might spend two days canvassing the boroughs of New York City by car, while a laptop resting on the front seat captures identifications for Wi-Fi access points and sends the information back to Skyhook’s offices in Boston.

While Skyhook is gathering and making available location-data via WiFi, other providers are busy collecting GPS-data surrounding user “check-ins,” while Google is busy collecting real-time location data through the use of Latitude.  There’s a ton of location and “places” data being collected, but the fragmentation and general availability of it all continues to suffer.

When the day comes when location is the primary aspect of any mobile application, which is rapidly approaching, the industry will likely look back at the starting line and wish things were done with a bit more organization and foresight for the future.  Though it’s only the beginning, players in the location game need to plan way ahead and work together to lay the foundation for anyone to thrive in.