Being in two places at once

Jeremy Green/Ovum
01 Sep 2009

The late Yasser Arafat reputedly was careful not to spend two successive nights in the same place. Last night I went a step ahead, simultaneously spending the night in two different places.

Like a lot of people, I have two mobile phones: a BlackBerry Bold for work and an Android-based G1 on T-Mobile, on a contract that includes unlimited data, for personal use. Following updates to both devices, I now have Latitude on both. This was partly an experiment to compare how well the application works on different handsets, and partly to support my argument that in the era of Facebook many users no longer care about the privacy of personal data.

The application turned out to work quite well. It showed where I was down to about postcode levels of accuracy – good enough to let my family know if I was on the way home; not granular enough to be of real interest to a potential stalker or kidnapper. I even added the Latitude ‘blog badge’ to my blog so that anyone with internet access – not just my Latitude buddies – could see where I was.

It wasn’t just me who liked it. Following its release in 27 countries, 11 million users signed up to Google Latitude within a week.

Multi-platform approach allows users to ‘bilocate’

Yesterday, though, I wondered how Latitude would handle it if my two devices were in different places. So I sent the BlackBerry home with a colleague who lives a suitable distance away from me and kept the G1 in my pocket. Both versions of the application are tied to the same Google account; Google does not appear to have a problem with the same account being simultaneously logged in from multiple devices.

Latitude appears to have dealt with the positioning ambiguity by ‘mashing’ the two locations. On my G1 the little dot on the map reflected where the device itself was, but the text box showed the location of the BlackBerry. The embedded map on the blog badge initially showed the position of the BlackBerry, but when I manually updated the location of the G1 the blog badge came into line, refreshing to show the G1’s position with the BlackBerry’s location in the text box.

It’s hard to believe that this mashing approach is the result of deliberate intention by Google; there are obviously better ways of processing ambiguity than this. Rather, it seems to be an unforeseen consequence of the way that Latitude processes position information and updates. Equally, it’s surprising that no-one seems to have encountered this issue before when the possibility seems so obvious.

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