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Forget ‘e’ and ‘m’, p-commerce is the future – 'strewth

What's the point in my Wap phone? No.32

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Flippin' prefixes. Well, stop worrying about electronic and mobile commerce and welcome positioning-based commerce (catchy). Apparently, this is where your Wap phone knows where you are and feeds you information directly specific to your location.

Now this idea fits into what can be called three-level thinking:

  • First thought: Wow! That's gonna be really good!

  • Second thought: Actually, what the hell would I ever use it for?

  • Third: Well, I suppose I can see some uses. When is it available?

Aside from operators and phone manufacturers - who are always looking at everything that any company ever mentions (or so they tell us) - three companies have recently started pumping out the PR: AirFlash, CPS and Scoot.

AirFlash (and its "smart zone" technology) can tell where you are, and using a big, fat database advise you on where to go for whatever your particular needs are. It licenses out its database to operators (the old ASP model), charging $1 per user per month. Excite is on the books. AirFlash has a big US database but is working on building one for the UK - it'll be ready for London by July, the company's CEO, Rama Aysola, told us.

CPS and Scoot have just announced an alliance (aaargghhh) to do the same thing. CPS is a positioning company and has come up with some nifty software that makes location-finding more accurate. Scoot is a big Yellow Pages-type company which is pushing its Web involvement. But since its mascot is - ahem - a large, purple head, we're wondering how seriously we should take it.

So what's it useful for?
Well, we're being spun the line that you will be able to get restaurant/pub/theatre information on the hoof. Stranded hungry in a funny part of London? No worries - there's a lovely Chinese just round the corner.

As a selling point, this sounds pretty good, but in reality it'll likely only be tourists that find this useful. And these companies do have very limited listings so you may end up walking past three nice-looking pubs before entering the dodgiest pub in town just because it had paid a fee to the listings company. Not very user-friendly, and people always have their favourite places anyway.

Where it comes into its own though is in non-fixed information. For example, traffic information. Also, if you break down, the location detection would be great - or literally a lifesaver if you're in an accident.

In the future it could lead you to buses or train stations and tell you how to get from A to B. But then staff often don't what time their own bus/train is supposed to arrive/leave.

Why "in the future"?
Well, because the positioning isn't that accurate at the mo. You're alright if you're in town (to about 300m), but get out in the countryside (where there are fewer transmitters) and you could be looking at a 10km possible area (35km, says CPS' Melanie Cox), which would kinda cut down on its practicality.

Look, you sell a whole commerce idea and then basically say it would be better to use your eyes. Is this another load of Net gumpf?
Partly. But this is what CPS is working on. It reckons it can get location down to 50m, anywhere you like. To do this, you need a piece of software on your phone and network operators have to install another element on their network. CPS is giving free licences to handset manufacturers, but consumers may find themselves paying a bit extra for the attached service. Mitsubishi and Siemens have signed up.

This all sounds very nice, but, really, is it worth me paying yet another additional monthly charge to know where my favourite pubs are?
Between you and me, not really. But what you're forgetting is that this will become a built-in feature as soon as you blink. The services will be pretty ropey and not that useful, but you can be sure that accurate location will have a million and one good uses - they just haven't been thought of yet. ®

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