[LINK] Rant: MS buys into location services
Mon, 28 Oct 2002 08:58:36 +1000
A tidbit that had passed me by at the time:
>Microsoft has agreed to acquire a company that makes software for
>providing location-based services, and will use the company's technology
>to bolster its .Net software for delivering geographical information to
This is a very good reason not to buy the sort of device MS (and the
carriers) wants us all to have.
While the emphasis in the press release (and therefore the xeroxed story,
because Infoworld can't even check the effing product list on the vendor's
Website) is on consumers looking up locations, the vendor (www.vicinity.com)
is clear that some of its products (Location Analyser for eg) are in the
other direction, finding the device from the carrier.
Let's take this in a bit more detail.
The Pocket PC Phone Edition is the basis for a big MS thrust into the
mobility market. Carriers love it because, bluntly, it's a purpose-built
bandwidth hog. For eg, it will automatically use the GPRS or 3G channel to
synchronise its address book with the user's Outlook address book.
This sounds nice and convenient - but GPRS data costs between 0.8c and 2c
per kilobyte. It's also got Windows Media Player in the bundle, so users can
grab music and videos* over the wire. Only a nark would mention that users
can therefore pay $20 for a heavily-compressed single song.
(*presumably only content protected by an appropriate DRM regime! ;-)
So carriers love this to death.
Device manufacturers aren't entirely convinced. Ericsson, Nokia et al don't
want to cede their cozy world to Microsoft - at the very least, they can see
the PC market, and probably agree with Scott McNealy that "the only value
you add to a banana is a bruise". They don't want to be relegated to trying
to be the first to be the Dell of the phone world - because losers will die.
If MS is to impose its will on this market, it has to make its stuff
irresistable to carriers. Traffic is one way. The other way is to set up
camp at important crossroads. Like location-based services.
Looking at things from the user's point of view, I'm less than happy. The
idea that the dominant mobile platform will one day embed location-based
services doesn't fill me with joy. I don't much like the idea that a
platform with a history of insecurity - and a current policy of vendor
access to user software - can also report user location.
Right now in Australia, location services are "pull" services - I can ask
the carrier "what's in Sussex St?". This is partly regulatory - MOLI
specifies that location cannot cross the network boundary; and it's partly
because of patchy network support for location services.
But with a powerful lobby, one which is at least impossible for governments
to ignore (Here comes Steve Ballmer! Quick, get the Minister's make-up
happening!), I wonder how long the protection of privacy would survive?
Even worse, imagine this:
checkbox "Use Network-Provided Location Services" [Help explanation: "Check
this box if you wish to use mobile network information provided by your
carrier to access services like shopping, car parking and theatre
ticketing."] - default condition "on".
<PR spin: Location services are entirely opt-in. If users want to disable
location services, they can.>
It's not, I guess, a personal concern - I have no desire to turn my
telephone into something less useful. But it's a bait for suckers.
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