Now then, for years — YEARS — developers have been crying out for proper location APIs from mobile operators to use. Years. It got so bad that the unthinkable eventually happened — Nokia was forced to start including GPS chips in their handsets.
It was THAT bad.
And it was unthinkable because of the battery overhead. It was absolutely ridiculous — it still is. Try using GPS for any length of time on your handset and watch the battery drain in near-real time.
It was worse, of course, with the first generation handsets featuring GPS. It was functionally rubbish too. I remember being able to get a GPS fix on my N95 by leaving it on a wall for more than 10 minutes.
It’s still bad today. But one of the major reasons we have GPS chips in our phones is because the mobile operator couldn’t get it’s act together.
I use the phrase ‘mobile operator’ in a global sense. Way back in… oh, I dunno, say 2005 (from my rough memory), one of the leading aggregators of the day called me up to explain that ‘location’ was now possible.
“Just like SMS,” the guy said, “You just give us the phone number and we connect to the operator’s systems and boom, you’ll get the lat/lon coordinates back. Or a post code if you like.”
It sounded fantastic.
“Yeah, the networks just do a triangulation on the cell towers,” he explained, “It’s pretty smart.”
“When can I use it?” I asked, wondering if we could somehow integrate the technology into our nightclub text-to-screen systems. It would have been flipping genius.
“Well, they’re being strict about look-ups,” the chap continued, “So you’ll need to get explicit authorisation first from any users.”
That’s doable, I thought.
“Oh, and it’s 12 pence per lookup.”
He wasn’t kidding. There was some model that if we paid a stupidly expensive fixed sum, we could have ‘unlimited’ look-ups. But the dicks at the operator — and I do mean TOTAL NUMBSKULLS — decided that since SMS messages were flying off the shelves at 12p-a-pop, they might as well use precisely the same billing mechanism for the developers looking to access the facility.
I spoke to lots of companies who’d have used look-ups. I’d have used them day-in-day-out at our nightclub text service. It would have been invaluable. Geez, the applications, the possibilities.
But the revenue model wouldn’t work.
So we — that is, the market — went OTT. Over-the-top. Apple cracked it with their mix of “A-GPS” and Skyhook Wireless integration that made the whole thing work like magic.
And nobody used the mobile operator’s location look-up technology.
So it is with no small amount of delight that I report to you today that BlueVia, Telefonica’s developer arm, has now launched an all new location API to the existing wealth of capabilities. First — and most important — it’s entirely free. Second, it allows you to query a customer’s longitude, latitude, altitude, location accuracy and timestamp.
What are the implications of this? Well, it means that any application you’re currently considering for deployment on BlueVia can now make use of location (in the United Kingdom — I’m sure BlueVia will be aiming to extend this feature out to the other 6 supported countries soon).
However, I’d like developers to consider going one-step further. For example, if your application requires the use of GPS just to establish a ‘general’ location (e.g. High Street, Marlow), you can now opt to check if the user is an o2 customer using the BlueVia API. Just one API call. And if they are, store that information so that whenever you need to access their location, AVOID killing their battery and place a network lookup API call instead. Just for o2 customers. They’ll love you for it.
Now. There’s another application I’m thinking of — right away — that I want to see.
I use Google Latitude. I quite enjoy it. Sometimes it’s rather useful. But, unfortunately, there’s a stupid battery overhead. Thousands of well meaning mobile phone luvvies will claim it’s minimal. It’s not. It’s at least 5-8% I reckon. Of the day’s use. I can’t use it on my BlackBerry — I literally have to exit Google Maps manually every time I’m not using it so that my BlackBerry doesn’t leak battery through Google Maps.
On the iPhone, the battery impact is less pronounced but it’s STILL there. Maybe 5%. And 5%, when the handset can’t blow it’s nose without dropping 10% battery, is very important to me.
But I like Latitude. I like my friends and contacts knowing where I am.
So here’s my idea for the BlueVia API: A system that pings my location via the BlueVia API once per hour and feeds this information into Google Apps. Or even every 30 minutes. Who cares? It’s free! It’s a resource sitting there. o2 *ALREADY* knows where my phone is. There is NO battery impact. At all.
There are tons of possible uses for BlueVia’s new location API. It’s a shame it’s only available for o2 UK at the moment, but that’s still tens of millions of accessible users. And of course, it doesn’t matter what phone they use.
And just how easy is it to integrate into your code?
Or, read this, rather:
(You’ve already added the BlueVia library into your PHP/whatever script, right)
LOVE it. LOVE it!
Get stuck in at bluevia.com.