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Location-Aware Computing with iPhone


If the iPhone has done anything, it's brought prominence to location-based computing. Where you compute has become as important as what you compute. A few months back, I helped out a TUAW reader by building a location application called Findme. It automatically fed the iPhone's location to Twitter, providing an emergency fallback in case the iPhone was lost or stolen.

How people started using Findme really took me by surprise. Read on to find out why.

I was taken aback when almost no one used Findme for its intended purpose, i.e. locating misplaced iPhones. Instead, people started using it to connect to their friends. As I improved the location algorithm, moving from Google to Skyhook, this became more and more pronounced. They tracked themselves on cross country trips. They created group maps to find their buddies. They played geocaching-style games. And so forth.

Findme became one of the biggest sources of Twitter spam both for public (as googled here) and private updates. Although I had set up Findme to run once or twice a day, some users started using it every 30 seconds.

The demand was clear. I was contacted by numerous third-party developers to use Findme in their own 1.1.4 applications. (OK, but for non-commercial use only.) With 2.0 firmware on the horizon, however, everything is about to change.

With Apple's announced Core Location support, the trend is only going to accelerate. A billion new location-aware startups have launched in the past few months.,,,, and, not to mention many many others are joining players like Flickr and Twitter, who already offer basic location support.

So why the big push? Laptops offer just as much pseudo-GPS ability as the iPhone ... but you don't really use them the same way. Yes, you can use your laptop in Starbucks or Panera, but how often do you pull out your MacBook while sitting on a barstool, deciding where to go for dinner?. Probably not often. The iPhone will soon let you check local restaurant reviews, movie showings, and events -- all based on your immediate location.

The iPhone is a platform that lives in your pocket. So you can pull it out, check your options and make some decisions without all the overhead associated with laptop use. It's this fundamental difference in the way we use the iPhone with "pants-based computing," with a device that travels with us and knows where we are, that powers this paradigm shift. We're sitting at the edge of a location-based computing revolution, and the iPhone is pulling us there. From our pockets.

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