Importance of user location in mobile applications


Identifying User Location has been gaining a lot of importance in mobile applications because this helps in tracking and predicting contextual user behavior at certain places and certain points of time. It conveys information about the user behavior/experience at different locations such as shopping streets, restaurants, universities or railway stations. This data about user locations helps in multiple ways:

  1. Marketing analytics: Based upon this user behavior insights from analytics, targeted advertisement campaigns can be designed to be pushed to users at specific locations. Offline businesses can utilize this further to attract customers who are passing nearby by pushing notifications to their devices informing them about latest discounts/offers. Facebook also announced that user location would be utilized for displaying real-time advertisements. For ex. Supermarkets can push deal notifications whenever a user passes near to their place and have an app installed or even detect users at a precise shelf or display (through Beacons described later).
  2. Consumer research: Specific businesses can also create survey campaigns and through this information collected from respondents, companies can decide where to place advertisements, shops or kiosks. Surveys can be made more targeted or personalized and delivered right at the point and in the moment of experience with combinations of user location and preferences. This enables lesser reliance on recall, more emphasis on real-time opinion collection at user’s convenience and getting an accurate feedback/response. For ex. For a user coming out of a movie hall, a notification is pushed to send feedback for the movie.
  3. Improving road traffic: Location information can also assist in utilizing traffic data from user’s location to design traffic signaling or traffic planning or users can plan their routes. Google Maps enable viewing traffic details through information obtained from users who have enabled GPS and using their speed to create a traffic map. Mobile operators can obtain user location by triangulation with mobile towers very easily and understand where the customers are spending time to enable advertisers to select right place. This also assists ride sharing applications such as lyft (https://www.lyft.com/).
  4. Connecting people: Location information can also help in connecting people (friends or relevant people with common interests). Foursquare is one such application that helps users discover local places and meet friends. This would help in huge conferences, or festivals, or music concerts where people can enable their location detection, preferences and find friends through app.

Technologies utilizing user location

To improve the ecosystem of location detection, various technologies exist which create a smoother interaction with user location and utilize this information in innovative ways as follows:

  1. Geo-fencing: This technology works by creating a virtual perimeter and whenever the user crosses these “virtual fences” (detected by GPS on user device), users get a contextual notification which may be a feedback survey or an exciting offer if they have signed up and based upon their preferences. There are companies with success in marketing campaigns with location based targeted advertisements.
    1. Use case 1: A shoe store ‘Meat Pack’ wanted to attract customers going to its competitors which were its key audience. Every time a customers with a MeatPack installed entered the store of the competitor, they received a notification about a countdown time (reduced by 1% every second) from 99% discount which stops when the customer enters the Meat pack shoe shop. Thus Meat Pack did not only attract the customers quickly and efficiently. Meat Pack had stolen over 600 shoppers from competitors and one very speedy customer managed to get 89% off a pair of shoes! 
    2. Use Case 2: Placecast, which offers location-based marketing services, created geo-fences with a radius of 0.5 miles around over 1000 pubs in the UK that sold Bulmers MMS message informing them where they could claim their offer on Bulmers cider.
  1. Nearfield technology: This technology communications between nearby devices through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transfer. The information transmitting device has location information which connects with information receiving device and helps in identifying users through their devices. There are tiny information transmitting devices knows as Beacons which can be placed at specific places and whenever the user crosses nearby these devices, the user location can be precisely identified and appropriately utilized. This works without GPS and can be utilized in supermarkets, restaurants etc. For ex. Apple has developed an iBeacon technology for their devices to identify user location.

Issues with getting location information

  1. User awareness and convenience: A major difficulty is to attract or engage users to start sharing location information. Currently, data is obtained through metadata present in photos and videos shared online, through socializing applications (Facebook check-in or Foursquare) and through utility applications (Google Maps). User information Privacy is an important consideration to make users more open to sharing location. This should also be an opt-in process and users might need incentives for sharing location information (discount coupons for filling surveys).
  2. Compulsory connection to Internet: Both technologies described above need access to internet as one necessary condition for information delivery, which can prove to be a bottleneck for devices not connected to internet every time and lead to interruptions in user location information.
  3. Accuracy and precision: To enable interconnection between people, it is essential that location detection is more precise and correct to finer details. Absence of this would lead to inaccurately triggering notifications which could be both irritating and frustrating for the user.
  4. Phone limitations: Low end phones can’t handle location due to absence of features and high end phones use up a lot of battery. Also, variety of mobile devices do not track location in a coherent manner so the information aggregation becomes difficult.

Conclusion:

It is essential that all these location based services ultimately add value to the user and not make them feel unsafe or frustrated. The business strategy of employing a user’s location needs to be though out clearly. Any company targeting users on the basis of their location need to clearly describe what level of information would be obtained and utilized before asking for user’s consent. User awareness about the implications of sharing location data will go a long way in developing the ecosystem further and increasing location information literacy for the user. When sellers know where and what their customers, are doing, they can select a better deal to go through.

Sources:

  1. Golden, Paul, 2010. Moving Targets. [Online] Available at: http://www.research-live.com/moving-targets/4003637.article [Accessed 17-10-2014].
  2. Zickuhr, Kathryn, 2013. Location-Based Services. [Online] Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/09/12/location-based-services/ [Accessed 17-10-2014].
  3. Apple, 2013. iOS: Understanding iBeacon. [Online] Available at: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht6048 [Accessed 17-10-2014].
  4. Erica, 2012. Unresolved issues in location-based market research. [Online] Available at: http://www.kinesissurvey.com/unresolved-issues-in-location-based-market-research/ [Accessed 18-10-2014].
  5. Crocker, Peter, 2014. More than maps: the evolution of location-based applications http://research.gigaom.com/report/more-than-maps-the-evolution-of-location-based-applications/ [Accessed 18-10-2014].
  6. Wikipedia, 2014. Google Traffic. [Online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Traffic [Accessed 18-10-2014].
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