New features in mobile devices have a sort of life-cycle. When a feature is brand new, it typically appears only in high-end models. But as time goes by, the cost of adding this feature drops, and it will begin to appear in less and less expensive units, until it eventually becomes ubiquitous.
A prime example of this is color screens. When these started appearing on handhelds around the turn of the century, the devices all cost about $500 or more. But color displays gradually dropped in price, and now I can’t think of even a feature phone with a monochrome screen.
GPS is somewhere in the middle of this process, and in just a couple of years I’ll predict you won’t be able to find a handheld or smartphone without the Global Positioning System built into it.
It’s a Good Thing
One of the major forces pushing GPS into every possible mobile phone is the wireless carriers, as they can see a tremendous potential for additional revenue. And I think that’s great, because it’s also going to be a nice benefit for all us users.
The most obvious application is the one huge numbers of people are using already: driving directions.
I have a GPS unit now, and I love it because it saves me lots of driving time. I generally know a way to get from where I am to where I want to go, but I don’t know if that’s the quickest way. My GPS receiver can tell me.
But that’s just the beginning. How would you like directions to the place with the cheapest gas? Or the closest Vietnamese restaurant? These are the sort of things you can get with a GPS-enabled smartphone.
You’ll be able to call 911 and have the police know exactly where you are, and exactly where you’ll be until they find you.
I predict that before too much longer you’ll be able to pull up a map on your phone that shows exactly where your friends and/or family are in real time. (Naturally, they’ll have to agree to share this information with you and vice versa.)
Or how about this? You could be out shopping and your phone could tell you that a store just a block away is having a big sale on whatever it is you’re look for.
… I Hope
As good a thing as I think everyone having a GPS-enabled phone will be, anything can be screwed up if someone works hard enough.
The potential gremlin in this is the wireless carriers. I’m worried they might want to make everyone pay monthly fees for these services, while a pay-per-use set up seems better for consumers to me.
What I’m hoping is that the carriers treat GPS services like SMS messages, where you only pay for what you use.
You should be able to get a monthly subscription to a service (like driving directions) for $10 to $12 a month if you think it’ll be useful to you, but you shouldn’t have to subscribe if you’re only going to use the service a few times while you’re on vacation.
Maybe it could even be advertiser driven. I wouldn’t mind getting a free set of directions that happened to mention every time I passed a McDonald’s.
Concentrate on the Benefits
If you’re someone who’s ambivalent about having a GPS-enabled phone, here’s some last points to think about.
You would never be lost again. If you got confused about how to get somewhere, you won’t have to pull over and ask some local yokel; your phone will tell you.
Think about how much $3.00 a gallon gas you’ll save if your phone can always tell the shortest route between any two points.
It will also be able to direct you around traffic jams, saving you more gas money.
And tell you if your son really took your car to the library, or if he’s off wasting time with his friends.
It’s definitely something to look forward to.