October 18, 2010, 11:37 AM — As we do more and more computing on mobile devices while away from home or office, our location has become increasingly important. Apps like Foursquare (for Android or iPhone) and Gowalla (for Android or iPhone) were built around location, using GPS, Wi-Fi, and IP address to place us on a map.
These apps then let users "check in" from their location, alerting their friends to where they are and what they're doing. There's also a gaming aspect: Users can win online trinkets for checking in most often at a given place.
But the novelty of checking in and winning prizes has worn off. Location-aware services must evolve to offer truly useful and valuable services to users, and they will--or they'll perish. Still, even as they exist today, location-aware apps can be used in practical ways to help you communicate better, make better choices, save money, and improve productivity.
Here are some examples.
1. A Multimedia Journal
One nice feature in Gowalla is its capacity for storing photos and associating them with places you've been. For instance, if you visit Chinatown in San Francisco, you can load your photos from there into Gowalla, which will then display them with your comments and check-in locations from that day.
The Gowalla tool can be especially useful if your travels involve multiple stops, and you need to carefully organize the data you pick up at each stop. For instance, if you're shopping for an office or house or apartment, you'll probably see a number of properties—each with plenty of important characteristics worth noting--in the course of your search. Taking notes and pictures is a good idea, so you won't forget or muddle the things you saw, and end up making a less-than-ideal decision.
Using Gowalla you can attach all of your photos and notes to individual check-in locations. This gives you written, visual, and map data so that later you can revisit your experience and your impressions at a specific stop. After the tour is over, you can go to your Gowalla account to review everything you've seen and thought, and then make a reasoned decision about which property is best for you.
Of course you can use the same tool for other types of decisions, too. Think car-buying or spouse-hunting. Yes, Gowalla can change your life.
2. Keep Track of Your Routes