How Context Awareness
Makes LBS Meaningful!
n recent times, there has been a
Location based services (LBS) may be the rage around
lot of talk about location-based
the world, but have not made their presence felt in India.
services (LBS) – applications that
Could context awareness hold the key to their success? integrate geographic location while
delivering relevant information.
Interestingly, LBS as a concept is not
new. It is in fact almost a decade old and
has been in use in the enterprise domain
for years. However, it has not made its
presence felt in the consumer sector for
some rather interesting reasons.
One cannot have a tasty dish without
the right ingredients. Well, the same
applies to technologies. . Some of the
ingredients considered necessary to
make LBS relevant to a broader base
of consumers were the existence of
standards, efficient computing power,
friendly yet-powerful human-computer
interfaces, higher penetration of feature-
rich smartphones, GPS (global positioning
system) devices, a geographical database
for locations, and a rich collection of
points of interests.
While most of the ingredients seem
to have reached the threshold to enable
the use of LBS in developed countries,
developing economies like India are
still struggling in this regard. Perhaps
India’s dense population and middle class
dominance doesn’t make investment
intensive ingredients like GPS devices,
smartphones, PNDs (portable navigation
devices), etc, a common need. Thus,
delivering location-based services has
been a greater challenge in this part of
the world and requires different strategies
from those that succeeded in the west.
The need for LBS
One of the developments in the LBS industry has
A rapidly changing landscape,
been the emergence of technologies that have
lack of navigation planning, and
demonstrated a viable solution without needing a
increasing traffic are some of the
factors that are fuelling a rising
need for highly efficient navigation
and allied services for the masses. used via Web browsers and hence context-aware computing technology
An efficient navigation system can considered as Web services. The to assist everyday activities. This team
also act as the backbone for other additional challenges to be considered admitted that the majority of context-
services to be delivered along an are the richness, personalisation and aware computing is restricted to
active route the user is travelling ubiquity of services to the mobile location-aware computing for mobile
through -- what are known as ‘vertical user, and the linking of services to a applications and not the location-
location-based-services’. Live traffic relevant context. context-aware computing.
information, local search, permissive Therefore, another challenge Therefore, this is perhaps the
local advertisements, mobile contact has been the lack of understanding fundamental intelligence that is needed
trackers and SOS, are some examples among application developers about to be delivered to make LBS more
of vertical LBS what makes a location-based service appealing to the user.
One of the developments in appealing to the common person.
What is context awareness?
the LBS industry has been the Systems that can deliver intelligent
emergence of technologies that information in relation to the context Is the fact that I am at Lajpat
have demonstrated a viable solution of the user’s location simply do not Nagar in Delhi, contextual information
without needing a GPS device. exist. The entire LBS bouquet has about me? Well, actually it is location
Operators themselves have been been revolving around harnessing awareness about me and not location
trying for more than half a decade to the value out of the users’ location context awareness. But add to that
use dynamic location awareness to awareness and not the location’s the fact that it’s a Sunday afternoon;
provide customised mobile services to context awareness. This is a fact Lajpat Nagar is a busy shopping area;
consumers, but there has nevertheless that is confirmed by the research and as my office is not located here,
been a noticeable delay in bringing team under the Future Computing the chances are that I am probably
efficient location-based services over Environments (FCE) at Georgia out shopping, would be contextual
mobile devices. Tech, which is dedicated to the information related to my current
Today, such services are often invention of novel applications using location. Another example of contextual
information would be the fact that as
it is December, it is likely to be cold in
The graph shows the upward trend being observed over the past few years in the usage of feature rich phones–one
of the necessary ingredients for LbS usage Delhi and there’s a fair chance that I
might go to a restaurant to have some
Similarly, a famous dry-fruit shop
in the area may like to notify me that
it is offering cashew nuts at a discount.
Since most people are in a frame of
mind to shop in that area, chances are
that they may go there to check the
prices and end up making a purchase.
Since it is winter, chances are that
most shoppers are looking for woollen
clothes on discount in the area and,
58 | February 2009|www.itmagz.com|i.t.
hence, a merchant offering special
The entire LBS bouquet has been revolving
discounts on woollen clothes may
around harnessing the value out of the users’
like to advertise it to every person
location awareness and not the location’s context
entering the area. This is an example
awareness... perhaps the fundamental intelligence
of advertising based on the location
context-awareness of the consumers.
that is needed to be delivered to make these
Such information delivered on
services more appealing to the general user.
mobile phones with the address of
relevant merchants and last-mile similar to happen. to the user. Working out ways of
directions can act as icing on the delivering context aware information
cake and enhance the experience of is quite a challenge because the habits
consumers. and behaviour of people change from
However, we have not yet seen The general mechanism for place to place.
intelligent ways of collating and computing location contextual What if I update my Twitter
managing this information to make it information can be broken into three account saying, “Going for shopping
relevant, interesting and useful for the steps: to Lajpat Nagar this evening,” and the
customer, while increasing the reach of Information collection: Collecting system linked to my Twitter account
advertisers. information on the user’s physical, deciphers this information and sends
One way is to passively collect informational or emotional state. me an SMS asking, “Would you like
mobile location data in real-time from Context extraction: This involves to receive various discounts and offers
users’ mobile devices or other possible analysing the information in relation in Lajpat Nagar this evening?” Now,
sources, and then classify people into to other information such as location, that would be interesting.
various categories based on their time, environment, social and mental Similarly, before I start my journey,
behavioral patterns over time. This state, etc. what if there was a method to push
will ease the process of inferring traits Pattern recognition: This entails various discount offers to me between
about particular places and the type predicting patterns in the consumer’s certain time slots? Perhaps I could
of people that visit them; what people behaviour, over time. even specify the keywords indicating
do at these places and what are they All the aspects by themselves which discounts I’d be interested
likely to do next. This information require expertise and thus demand in, i.e., offers based on my brand
can easily be used to decipher changes individual teams to collaborate and preferences.
in consumer behaviour over time, come up with an efficient solution. I cannot see too many consumers
predict trends and hence, this data can Issues that may surface in this complaining if such information
be correlated with various industry regard are likely to be that of privacy is available to them, although
domains like retail, travel, tourism and and spam. Solutions will have to be some might object if too much
entertainment. developed to tackle these issues if of it is pushed at them. Like all
A few companies in the west, like LBS is to succeed. great products, even context aware
Rocking Frog and Sense Networks, applications are subject to overkill.
have made some efforts in this That said, if used effectively, such
direction but unfortunately, the Indian No technology is going to be applications can deliver phenomenal
arena is still waiting for something popular unless it offers some benefit value to the consumer as well as
We have not yet seen intelligent ways of collating Piyush Gupta
and managing this information to make it
The author is the co-founder of RouteGuru: a
pioneering LBS startup. As a South Asian Steward
for the Institute For The Future at Stanford University,
relevant, interesting and useful for the customer, US, he closely observes LBS industry trends. He
writes a blog titled ‘Indian LBS Insights’ and can be
while increasing the reach of advertisers. reached at firstname.lastname@example.org