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“Mobile phones are rapidly becoming all-in-one devices capable of providing a number of services and greater functionality. Beyond talking to other people and using them as navigation devices with their improving GPS capabilities, has the mobile phone extended itself in deeper and other constructive ways into sustainability issues, infrastructure, 3D cities or other areas we often associate with geodata and a spatially enabled society?”


Irrestible Nokia
Nokia held it’s annual shareholder meeting this week. It is hard not to respect the energy Nokia President and CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuois exudes with statements like,To succeed in this new environment, we need to offer consumers irresistible solutions that improve their lives. During 2008, we have taken many steps to ensure we maintain our strong leading position in the device business, while increasing our focus on solutions-centric business models. We have focused our services investments on five primary categories: maps, music, messaging, media and games. These are the areas where the biggest opportunities lie.”

He hits the nail on the head in the realisation that it’s all about improving lives – in an irresistible way. Did you notice he said maps? A telephone guy talking about maps, how about that.

Geospatial data and spatial information technologies are similarly oriented to improving people’s lives. This is manifested in the goal to produce more food, clean water, more efficient buildings, faster transportation and improved health care.

Kallasvuois obviously see’s geodata in Nokia’s future, and rightfully so. The company long ago made a major foray into the geospatial market through it’s purchase of  NAVTEQ. While the geo-community lamented about the future of that company, the Nokia CEO seemed to have an idea in mind that has borne fruit and enabled the development of a whole new set of products for the Finnish company.

What stage are we in?
My sense is that it is still too early to tell if or how the mobile phone is making inroads more deeply into the work processes and flows of spatial data for organisations. While it is apparent that GPS enabled devices connected to WiFi are undoubtedly powerful, it appears from the services that I have been able to experience and observe, that the devices are mostly oriented toward finding places and navigating roads. The number of people that are using them as data collectors and geospatial information capture remain small.

Can we see mobile phones as professional devices, capable of acquiring data that we might use in GIS and CAD systems? I think we are rapidly nearing that point where we can. The ability of modern mobile phones with GPS to continuously track has rapidly improved and larger memory card capacity is allowing for increased data storage. I can take the card from my mobile phone and place it in my mobile computer through a Web ‘n Walk card and transfer data, and or transfer it back to the mobile phone. Such flexibility improves the link between a computer and mobile device, while also enabling data transfer capability.

Only a few short year’s ago a 3.5 megapixel digital camera was considered top of the line. Now that same capability is available in a mobile phone, thereby enabling these devices to become not just image collectors, but geo-referenced image collectors. The collected images can be immediately uploaded and downloaded between individuals and or shared otherwise.

These devices have gathered more and more services and functionality. In fact, it is only after they became closer to mapping that I actually bought one. A telephone booth worked well for me in most cases – though those are being removed now!

The concept of a all-in-one functional device, however, is quite appealing. It really goes to the idea of connection wherever one is and whatever one is doing. The lines between work and home are being removed and, for example, many people find they flip from work to play to communication all within an hour each and every day.

GIS Server and Mobile Phone
Perhaps the next obvious link lies between a GIS server and a mobile phone. In this scenario the mobile phone connects to greater amounts of data wirelessly, is able to enable processing with a few button pushes and can upload valuable information into a database securely and seamlessly.

The concept of a ‘green’ world is becoming less of a static form of association and one of a dynamic form of participation. As environments change, or the ability to contribute useful information about an environment is enabled, people will want to contribute and do it.

Imagine scenarios where everyone in a building, for example, could provide the temperature of where they are. Or, the air quality and so on.

Are we far from environmental sensors becoming standard equipment in mobile phones? How would they be used? How will we delve into questions about privacy for gathering dynamic information, or will new business models be developed to enable that?

In a sense the current onboard navigation functionality within a mobile phone is GIS enabled. It is mostly detached though. As more information flows from servers flows back and forth with one or more users, then the entire network takes on similarity to a virtual GPS network – those closer to higher quality information might contribute more to dynamic decisions in such a network.

Gaming holds great promise as Kallasvuois says. But the nature of the games change for those looking to use the technology beyond consumer applications in a mobile device. We probably are not there just yet, nor are the graphics, which depend on sufficient infrastructure to deliver them.

Clearly the mobile phone is becoming the preferred communication device. Will it replace standard GPS as data collector’s and what is the relationship of mobile phone technology to professionally enabled GIS and CAD systems? Are we far away from integrated workflows involving all of these technologies?

Probably not – if irresistible solutions are the goal…

[For the record: I do own a Nokia E71 mobile phone. I like it.]



Note: This column alternates weekly between Vector1 Media editors. Jeff Thurston is editor EMEA and Russia for V1 Magazine and V1 Energy magazine.  

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