Operating on Android terminals (such as the G1), Symbian phones and Blackberries – but, significantly, not the iPhone – Latitude allows you to ping the location of mobile phones. Latitude will make use of whichever technologies are available in the terminal to determine location, but typically GPS will give the best result when available. As a Latitude user, you can control which of your “friends” has access to your whereabouts.
This is by no means a unique service. Similar applications have been available from various providers for a few years already; however it takes on a much greater significance when Google gets involved.
For sure, Google’s initial motivation is to attract an ever increasing army of subscribers to its website and services. As with other cool Google widgets, you can’t start playing with Latitude until you have a Google login and e-mail account. Google’s huge subscriber-base forms the backbone of its advertising business.
But Latitude is also a piece in a bigger strategic puzzle. Your Google profile is already learning about you based on the search-terms that you use; and now it can also learn the places you go, greatly increasing Google’s ability to precisely target advertising.
Beyond even this, location information and a back-channel to the internet can turn literally anything into a “searchable asset”. As an individual you can search for your friends; check on your children; find your car, the next bus or a taxi. As a corporation, location becomes a hugely powerful marketing tool. Search for every product you’ve ever sold and discover when, where and by whom it has been installed.
As GPS finds its way into more and more mobile phones, from an innocuous launch, I’ll bet Google are anticipating that Latitude will grow into a hugely significant component in their business.
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