Here’s an experiment: The next time you head out to lunch, compare the restaurant’s icon on your mapping application to the location on the door. The odds are that the icon will be at least 20 meters away from the door itself.
For a consumer, that’s not going to stop them from finding lunch. But that margin of error presents a major hurdle for marketers as they look to use location data to not only target ads, but measure their effectiveness as well. The algorithms which marketers use to analyze location cannot tell whether we intended to go to a McDonald’s on the corner or the gym next door.
The good news is that the technology, which smartphones use to determine where we are in the real world, is improving. Here are four trends that will help push location-based services forward in 2015.
Smartphones will start to understand places — not just locations
In 2014, Apple introduced Visit Monitoring, a feature that allows developers to identify common places in a user’s life and collect more granular information. The feature creates an alternative for developers who want to access a user’s location on a more passive basis. The concept of the passive check-in offers a solution to the problem that geo-fencing was only able to provide approximations for: Namely, where do my consumers go?
Developers are still in the early days of figuring out how well passive visit detection works and how ad networks can take advantage of this ‘visit’ point. Mobile advertising networks have struggled to build meaningful attribution models using the local data available on the market today. But the introduction of the so-called “visit data” could change that in coming years.
Improved consumer data will put pressure on business POI providers
Several companies have launched SDKs enabling two-to-five-meter location resolution either via Bluetooth or refined GPS. Marketers will use those improved data to better measure whether consumers who saw ads eventually ended up in stores.
The shift from a navigation to attribution use case will put pressure on the data companies who sell point-of-interest data. These companies will need to match the accuracy of the location signal to meet the market demand for attributing in-store visits to those they’ve advertised to; proximity will no longer be good enough.
Ambient awareness breaks into the mainstream
With improved location accuracy, improved POI data, and efficient background location processing, developers will be equipped to build apps that can truly extract relevant real-world user experience. Apps will provide real-time recommendations on where to go based on the specific places and types of places you frequent. Health apps will become more of a digital personal trainer, reminding you to work out if you skip the gym too often. Travel apps will warn you if you need to leave earlier than anticipated to catch your flight, based on real-time traffic and your driving history.
Hyperlocal content delivery takes hold
The fabric of users, places, and events bound to location creates a new way to index information as we navigate our environment. Location will help us discover useful info to connect with nearby colleagues or notice when a friend is traveling through town, as well as foster new relationships based on shared interests and locality. Apps like Yik Yak, Twitter, and Circle have already started to organize content by proximity. This year, the social push is connecting with people and content by proximity and refined by local context.
Ask a person where he shops or eats, he’ll answer with a specific place in mind. In 2015, apps will catch up to that specificity. Location will mean more than a wandering blue dot; it will mean the places we’ve traveled, the relationships we’ve developed, and the resolutions we’ve kept.
Michael Chasen is CEO of SocialRadar. A co-founder of Blackboard, he led that company as CEO for 15 years and successfully sold it to Providence Equity Partners in 2011.