How Location Based Services Saved My Life

Sitting here in Automattic offices in San Francisco, I find myself lovingly caressing my Blackberry which, for a short time yesterday, I believed was separated from me for good. Turns out I lost it the night before and was having phantom spasms over not having it in my pocket to check email, twitter or do other activities I would normally engage in with my long-time partner and friend.

As I arose from my grogginess yesterday morning, my first instinct was to reach for my Blackberry to ascertain important overnight occurrences. You know, such as what drunken text messages I might have sent or had sent to me, what the final score was on the Red Sox game or who was talking about me on Twitter. It’s a hard habit to break so when I realized my phone was nowhere to be found, I panicked.

Then I remembered Google Latitude, the new mostly useless location based service announced earlier this year. Google Latitude has a small piece of software that can be installed on [supported] phones. It uses GPS or cell tower triangulation to pinpoint the location of a person. As I’m a Verizon Wireless customer, the only option I have is cell tower triangulation. So I can be pinpointed to an area.
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In a stroke of brilliant genius, I logged onto Google Latitude from my computer in the hotel. There were only so many places the phone could be. The last place I wanted to see it was in the back seat of the cab that had given me a ride home the previous night.

Fortunately, I was pinpointed (inaccurately because it was more my phone was pinpointed in Fisherman’s Wharf at the In n Out Burger that I had enjoyed a west coast delicacy the night before. I thought.

Fortunately, upon arrival at the In n Out Burger, the store manager did indeed have my Blackberry and I was able to carry on with my life.

This is a great example of how location based services can actually be useful. Instead of simply inviting the stalkerati or providing an unnecessary window into the life of the user, it is a good way for employees or assets to be tracked inexpensively. If you run a courier service, company-issued phones with Google Latitude might be a handy way to streamline your business operations.

Google Latitude is not the only “homing beacon” service out there. Tomorrow, with the launch of the iPhone 3G S, Apple is also introducing “Find my iPhone” with MobileMe which will pinpoint the location of a lost or stolen iPhone. Clearly a different benefit to the argument of value surrounding location based services