Big DataBig DataBig Data.  We’re hearing about it more and more every day.  Mobile.  Mobile. Mobile.  We hear about it seemingly every hour.  But where do these two industry tectonic plates come together?   They collide in the area of Location-Based Service (LBS) 2.0.

But first, let’s take a moment to ensure we have a shared understanding of where we are today with LBS 1.0.   Something I call, “Small Data: Small Screen.”   I’ll do this landscape with an area I’m most familiar with, the “navigation” category of mobile apps evaluating our efforts in terms of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in the spirit of the Summer Olympics that’s kicking off in London.  These are those apps who promise to help consumers by giving them permission to “use your location” to make it easier to find a restaurant, avoid traffic or get turn-by-turn directions.

Small Data: Small Screen – LBS 1.0 {Overall Score: Silver

As a whole, there are three emerging sub-categories of “Navigation” apps: i) Local Search, ii) Turn-by-turn driving and iii) Traffic apps.  Let’s take a quick tour of each sub-category.

i) Local Search Apps {Bronze}:  These are the Google Maps, Bing, Yelp, Where, Around Me type apps.  These apps answer the LBS 1.0 questions of “What’s around me?”.  More specifically, “Where can I find retailer X?”, what’s the address of Y store?”, “What are the ratings of Z restaurant?”.   As an industry, I give us a Bronze medal.  We solve many useful problems as evidenced by recent Microsoft research finding 70% of mobile searches are acted upon within sixty minutes, as compared to desktop searches which are only acted on 70% of the time within 1 week.

However, we have some colossal fails as an industry.  For example, industry researchers report Home Depot is the 8th most searched brand on mobile.  Seems odd, right?  Doesn’t every homeowner know how to get to their local Home Depot?  However, the question people actually are asking is, “What are my local Home Depot’s hours?”, because they don’t want to drive across town on a Sunday night only to discover the store is closed.  However, the Home Depot mobile app, doesn’t quickly answer this question.  Instead it tries to sell me a major appliance while I’m driving down the freeway.  FAIL.   One of INRIX’s own licensees, TeleNav, found the most searched place in their navigator app is…get ready for it… Starbucks.  Were people really struggling to find a Starbucks?   What they really wanted to know was the closest Starbucks to their location as well as if it was open.   Again, an easy fix but also a big FAIL as an industry.  TeleNav is hardly alone.

ii) Turn-by-turn driving apps {Silver}:  These are the Motion X, Garmin, TomTom, Waze, AT&T Navigator, type apps.  They answer consumers’ next logical question, “Once I’ve found the location and know the store is open, how do I get there?”  While a very popular category for consumer downloads, these apps typically only are used twice per week.  How can this category be so hot yet usage be so low?  The problem is the information provided by these apps is often inaccurate, not updated in real-time and lacks useful, actionable insight for the consumer.   Road closures, major construction, concerts and major sporting events are always of happening.  Most of these apps are ignorant of quality real-time data that makes the difference between routing someone through traffic or around it to their desired destination or doesn’t factor in delays due to traffic into travel times.   FAIL.  It’s 2012, not 2010.  As an industry, we can still do much better.

iii) Traffic apps {Bronze}.  You might be shocked to learn there are over 700 traffic apps in the US Apple App store alone.  These are the INRIX Traffic, Beat The Traffic, SigAlert, Dept of Transportation apps and the like.  Today these apps typically paint “traffic on map” in various states of quality and roadway coverage.  They typically answer the question ‘What does traffic look like a short time ago?”.  {Disclaimer, I am employed by INRIX where we analyze traffic data to provide insight that makes navigation easier and informs design of intelligent transportation networks}.    Why the Bronze medal when these apps do a much better job of providing the traffic than the intermittent radio broadcasts?  Because people don’t want to know there’s traffic – anyone who commutes more than 10 minutes a day knows there’s always traffic at rush hour.  What they really want to know is “Given the traffic, what’s my fastest route home, how long will it take and will I be able to get to my destination in time?”


Big Data: Small Screen – LBS 2.0

So what exactly is Big Data?  Other than another buzz word like “cloud computing” that means little to the average consumer, the phrase loosely means data so complex and generated in such volumes that when mined using sophisticated analytics reveals insights that provide new ways that more effectively tackle big problems.  Splunk, Facebook and INRIX are three good examples of Big Data companies.   Splunk is taking Business Intelligence to the next level mining machine data.  Facebook is swimming with data that investors are banking on the company leveraging to drive revenues that help Facebook live up to its huge valuation. At INRIX, we capture, analyze, and visualize more than a trillion data points from nearly 100 million drivers and hundreds commercial, consumer and government sources to produce real-time traffic updated every minute across 30+ countries.   In an industry where analytics and minimizing data latency are keys to quality, three minute old traffic data crowd-sourced from a small number of drivers just doesn’t cut it.

So, here’s our industry challenge.  How do we leverage Big Data to deliver apps and services on mobile devices to answer the questions consumers really care about?    How do we turn information into useful insight that consumers can depend on to help simplify their lives?  After all, I want my phone to give me insight mined from all human knowledge available on a topic right now, relevant to me and nothing short of this goal.

If we look back at the navigation apps as our example, these are the questions we must answer in an LBS 2.0 world:

  • “What are the cheapest gas stations on my way, not around me, to the airport rental car location?”
  • “Which coffee shops around me are open right now?”
  • “What’s the fastest route to that coffee shop, given real-time traffic?”
  • “Do I have enough time to grab a latte and still get to my son’s game on time?”  I need more than just an estimate but my actual arrival time, given real-time traffic conditions on the way there.”

By 2014, the acronym ‘ETA’ should join the dust bucket of ‘VHS’, ‘VCR’ and others.   To illustrate, when you want to know the time of day, you don’t look at the position of the sun in the sky to get an estimated time of day, you simply look at your phone and know the actual time.  Arrival times will follow this trend, given the Big Data trends underway right now.

My prediction for 2013’s overall score is a Silver medal as the industry and consumers start to separate the pretenders from the contenders delivering real value, not just hype.  By 2014, I’m hopeful as an industry that we’ll grab the Gold.

Yes, we have a few technical barriers and privacy issues in front of us, but I’m confident we will find our way through all of these, given the amount of R&D being poured into Big Data and the power of the consumer to demand fairness in terms of privacy.   Regardless, the LBS 2.0 starter’s gun just sounded.





Kevin Foreman, VP, Mobile Applications,