Mobile Apps for Capturing Geolocation and Customer Data
As progress towards truly ubiquitous or pervasive computing continues to be made, some of the more important emerging technologies that will facilitate this goal are so-called "apps," which are being engineered for a seemingly endless array of utilitarian as well as educational and entertainment purposes. To identify the current state of these technologies, this paper provides an assessment of the effectiveness and efficiency mobile-based applications that provide that ability to capture geolocation data as well as customer data and an evaluation of the potential benefits that can be realized by consumers based on the enhanced ability to gain access to their own data via mobile applications. In addition, an examination of the challenges of developing applications that run on mobile devices because of the small screen size is followed by a description of the methods that can be used to decide which platform to support, i.e., iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone, or Android. Because mobile applications require high availability because end users need to have continuous access to IT and IS systems, a discussion concerning ways of providing high availability is also provided. Finally, because mobile devices are subjected to hacking at a higher rate than non-mobile devices, a discussion of some of the methods that can be used to make mobile devices more secure is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Background and Overview
Although the technologies have been around a while longer, mobile apps gained increased popularity following the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, and since that time, there has been an explosion in use as well as offerings (Electronic resources review, 2011). In this regard, the editors of the Journal of the Medical Library Association report that, "Between Apple's iOS, Android, Blackberry, and HP/Palm's emerging WebOS platforms, users face a dizzying array of choices for professional, personal, and consumer apps" (Electronic resources review, 2011, p. 11). Although they differ in purpose and design, all apps share some common features that set them apart from other computer-based technologies. For instance, Poyntz points out that, "An 'app' -- short for application -- is a catch-all term for any piece of computer software that runs on a mobile phone. Apps can range from simple tools, such as currency converters or alarm clocks, to complex programs, such as word processors or video games" (2010, p. 19).
The source of apps has also expanded in recent years, with app engineers proliferating in response to the growth in demand, and most apps are either free or relatively low in cost (Frampton, 2012). In fact, even the most sophisticated and specialized apps typically cost just a few dollars (Poyntz, 2010). The numbers of apps reported varies of course depending on the date of the report, but some indication of current availability can be discerned from a recent estimate from Schaffhauser (2011) that indicates there were 653,614 apps in the iPhone, Android, iPad, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile Stores alone at the time of writing. Not surprisingly, these mobile devices are fundamentally altering the manner in which consumers and businesses interact with the Internet and each other. As Fisher points out, "Smartphones and tablets extend the mobility of our 21st century lives and the connectivity demands being placed on us. Furthermore, since they are portable and lightweight, and fit easily into our pockets, purses, or briefcases, they have become a formidable platform for commerce" (2012, p. 19).
Current estimates of spending on smartphones indicate that consumers invested $16 billion in 2010 and this amount will increase to more than $214 billion annually by 2014 (Fisher, 2012). According to one industry analyst, "It is the combination of the app and the platform that will make this growth in commerce happen. No matter how you look at it, that type of spending growth has a tremendous influence on the rate of app development" (Fisher, 2012, p. 37). Some of the more interesting apps to emerge from this amalgamation are those that are able to capture geolocational data as well as customer data in real-time ways, and these apps are discussed further below.
Effectiveness of Geolocational and Customer Data Apps
The relative effectiveness of apps that access data from the outside world or rely on what is available on the World Wide Web, or a combination of both, depends on the type of mobile device that is used, the latency of the available network connections, and the degree of specification needed by the geolocational app user (Poyntz, 2010). While various apps are written for the specific operating systems used by different mobile phone platforms, a bewildering array of apps has been created in recent years (and months), and more apps are being launched every day. For instance, Poyntz reports that, "The Android operating system produced by Google has over 70,000 apps available, while the iOS 4 system used by the Apple iPhone has over 200,000" (2010, p. 19). The effectiveness of these apps varies depending on user intent, available connectivity and latency, as well as the quality of the app design, all of which will contribute or detract from the potential benefits consumers are able to derive from these emerging technologies as discussed further below.
Potential Consumer Benefits
Apps for these platforms can be used to gain access to online information in ways that supplant or even eliminate the need for interpretive signage at sites of historical interest, and these trends are already taking place, including apps for the following:
A walking tour of Key West Cemetery;
Historic Riverside Cemetery tour;
St. Matthew's Cemetery Quebec;
A walking tour of an historic district such as architecture walks around Seoul;
Wicked walks Charleston;
Wolf walk Carolina State University;
Guides to nature areas such as Gippsland walks;
Access to samples of, or full texts of, heritage digitized material at the British Library and Bavarian State Library; and A way of overlaying historic photographs in augmented reality as used by the Museum of London (Forsyth, 2011).
With respect to the last entry, Poyntz notes that, "One of the most celebrated historical AR applications is the Museum of London's StreetMuseum app for the iPhone. It uses the iPhone's GPS to locate the user's position in London and will notify them if it has historical pictures or photographs of a location nearby" (2010, p. 21). The highly personalized interface provided by this and similar apps makes them highly desirable by consumers that want to interact with the physical world by using their wireless devices. In this regard, Poyntz adds that "If the user holds the iPhone's camera up to the location and looks at the screen, the app superimposes the historical image onto the scene being observed in the present. So far the app has images for over 200 locations in the city" (2010, p. 21).
While these types of applications may appear frivolous, they do reflect the tendency to incorporate real-world information with Internet-based supplemental data in ways that have never been explored and which continue to evolve in response to demand. Indeed, some industry analysts predict that apps will soon replace desktop computers as the primary way people interface with the Internet. According to Matheison, "Looking out five years, one can envision a world in which mobile apps serve as the primary interface that consumers use to interact with many brands. Indeed, marketers may have little choice. By 2020, mobile apps alone will be as big or bigger than the Internet, peaking at 10 million apps before leveling off" (p. 11). Some of the other geolocational apps that are being reported in the peer-reviewed literature include:
1. AIM, the AOL Instant Messenger and location-aware classic (one user reports "AIM allows me to stay connected to my staff and co-workers. We live on this app");
2. WebEx and GoToMeeting;
3. iPhone Maps identify location and the ability to share this data with others; and,
4. AroundMe locates everything from hotels and restaurants to parking places and hotels near a user's current location; and,
5. Bump, which allows users to "bump" others' smartphones to exchange information with them, thereby eliminating the need for old-school business cards (Schaffhauser, 2011).
It will not be long before apps and mobile devices outpace other computing applications for consumer purchases and Web interface. In this regard, Fisher (2012) reports that, "The growth of powerful smartphones and tablet computers is redefining the marketplace. What's astounding is more than the sheer volume of purchases that have taken place since 2010. It is the fact that many users of these wireless devices do not visit traditional websites or specially designed mobile sites. Even though the internet is 'their space,' it is apps (mobile applications) that they use most" (p. 19).
Indeed, almost 100 million smartphones will be purchased in 2012, followed by more than 25 million tablet computers, meaning that by year's end, fully 20% of American households will own a smartphone or tablet (Fisher, 2012). The potential benefits that can accrue to…