If the next frontier is mobile, a key battle ground is going to be location-based services. And, drilling down further, location-based social networking, such as the ability to share your current location with friends. Yesterday, Google went head-to-head with Nokia and a plethora of startups with such an application. Called Latitude, the Google Map-powered software enables users to keep track of where their friends are and what they’re up to. Sort of like Twitter, IM and GPS rolled into one.
If that sounds a lot like Nokia’s Friend View and, more broadly, the handset maker’s social location strategy (SoLo), that’s because it is. But there’s one significant difference: despite investing heavily in its own mobile operating system, Google Latitude has launched simultaneously on multiple mobile platforms: Blackberry, S60, Windows Mobile, and Google’s own Android. iPhone support should also arrive soon, says the company. In comparison, like other Nokia web services, Friend View is only available on S60 and targeted solely at Nokia’s own cell phones.
While this isn’t necessarily a problem in countries, such as India, where Nokia completely dominates, it flies in the face of network effects where the more people that join the network, the more useful the network becomes. Friend View, like any social network, only becomes truly useful if all or the majority of a user’s friends or contacts join. But to do this, they’ll have to use a Nokia smartphone too. That’s unlikely to be the case for all of a user’s social network, especially in the UK where competition amongst handset makers is fierce.
Imagine if Nokia phones could only call other Nokia phones. That’s not dissimilar to how Nokia’s social networking strategy works. At least for now. If the company is serious about transforming itself into an Internet company, this is something I’m convinced they need to address.
Video presentations of both services embedded below.
Nokia Friends View