The Second Mobility Revolution – From “One Place” to “Any Place” to “This Place”
The first mobility revolution freed us from the tyranny of location. First, cell phones freed us from having to be at specific places (e.g. office, home, public phone) to communicate with people who weren’t in the same room. Even then, we had to be at specific places to buy things (e.g. a store), to look up information (e.g. a library), to work (e.g. design office) and more. That was the era of “one place” where we had to be in the place for any task. In other words: location limited what we could do.
That tyranny has now been utterly broken. We are no longer anchored to “one place”, or limited to several well-defined locations, because the new era is “any place” – that is, generally we can do anything at any location (and more and more, at any time as well). In other words: location doesn’t matter.
Well, yet another location-related revolution is already here, and will have a growing impact over the coming years. It may seem that we have gone full circle, because in the new era, location does matter. However, there is a big difference, instead of limiting us, location will empower what we can do.
I am speaking, of course, of what we call “location-based” – location-based services, location-based advertising, location-based social networking and much more, which have been with us for over a decade. Yet, all of these are just the beginning of a much wider transformation. It will reach the full extent of its power when just about any interaction we have with and through our mobile technologies will be informed and enriched by location: Our own location, locations of relevant other people and things, and as we’ll see later – future locations.
Some apps are obviously location-dependent. Take navigation for example: In most cases we tell our navigation app to take us to some destination. However, most other apps have the same behavior no matter where you are. Your social-network app may attach your location to your posts, and it may select advertisements for you depending on where you are, but apart from that it looks and acts the same way regardless of whether you’re at your place of employment, or at home, or at the beach, or driving. Some social networks do inform you if a friend is nearby, which is definitely a step in the right direction, but let’s imagine a couple of scenarios using ClickSoftware which show how far this revolution still has to go:
Running errands: Imagine your family uses an app to share lists of errands and reminders. There are quite a few such mobile apps available, and some of them may let you specify where the task needs to be done. However, what if the errand doesn’t have a specified location, e.g. “get groceries”? Wouldn’t you want this app to recommend a grocer near where you are? Even better, wouldn’t you want to know that since you already committed to a couple of tasks this afternoon, the app found a grocer on your route between these tasks? Now imagine that since you share errands with other family members, the app will highlight where you could drive together to save money and reduce pollution.
On-the-job tasks: For some workers, the work day consists of a series of well-defined tasks which need to be performed at specific places and times – think of cable technicians, insurance assessors, delivery drivers, lawn mowing services etc. As you may imagine, performing these tasks has a lot to do with location, using intelligent software “butlers”. For example, the app could remind you, when you’re driving towards your next service appointment, that you’re going to get there within 15 minutes, asking you whether you want to notify your customer that you’re arriving shortly. When you complete the service and start driving away, the change in location will trigger a butler alert to register the end of this task. When you need help, the software will locate colleagues who are near you via a “resource radar” display.
Managerial tasks: Going beyond the obvious, consider the manager of such a team of workers, who wants to view reports of current service delivery status, communicate with employees and more. Like most of us, this manager has already made the transition to doing the job from wherever they are. However, when asking for some report, the location should matter: What if the report could highlight nearby tasks and nearby employees? What if the report would display different sections depending on whether the manager is at a customer site or at the office? Once you start thinking about how location affects what you do, you’ll discover many more opportunities for software to use location in order to support your work.
This use of location is part of the more general “context-aware” vision. Yet, I believe location deserves a special place in thinking about context-aware apps, because of its pervasiveness and because the mobile revolution is about, well, mobility – the ability to transcend location limitations.
So, the next time you use an app, or think of how to create a better app, be thankful that we no longer live in the “one place” era, and be creative about how the app could be made better by considering “this place”. After all, if “where you sit defines where you stand”, then “where you are defines what you need”.