Can iPhone GPS apps revolutionise the hospitality industry?


Take a look at this YouTube clip. It’s amazing.

I spent ten years living in London, and whilst I got to know the centre, the East End and chunks of Islington and Camden very well, I’d always get lost in the West and South of the capital. An iPhone application like this would have been a godsend, and a lot less bulky than a pocket A-Z.

I moved out of London in April, but I like this iPhone technology so much that I’ve been thinking of other uses for it. I thought it would be brilliant for self-guided trails – a tactile, attractive project that civic societies or local councils could use to pull in visitors to their town. Brilliant digital marketing for the heritage sector.

Similarly, I reckoned it would be great for restaurant guides, utilities companies that wanted to map manholes and fire hydrants, newsagents wanting to attract customers, theatres and ticket outlets. The possibilities for using GPS to give people directions in this way seem limited only by imagination and development costs.

However, the idea that most struck me was creating an application to map the country’s pubs. I’m always ending up in unfamiliar towns and villages (I like cycling), not knowing where the nearest good watering hole is. An iPhone application like the one above could surely help me out?

Things are never as simple as they seem, though, so I asked Fancyapint‘s Gordon Butler whether the technology could help his company’s directory of UK pub reviews. His answer: yes – if it worked much better than it does now.

The video looks like a great idea and one that would work very easily for our kind of information – the biggest drawback, as far as I can see, is perceived accuracy versus the real accuracy of the app.

Handheld devices are notoriously inaccurate where you need them to be most accurate – in built-up areas. GPS accuracy is likely to be 30-50 metres in cities with current technology, mobile cell triangulation is a few hundred metres, and the compass will be influenced by metallic objects around it. (What kind of case does your iPhone have, does it have a magnetic catch?) 30-50 metres sounds good, but in a place like Soho, you could be way off the mark when it comes to finding your way around – you could be a couple of streets off.

And that’s not good. You could mean to visit the Red Lion in Crown Passage, just off Pall Mall, and instead end up in the Red Lion in nearby Duke of York Street. They’re both good, but you might well miss out on one of the nicest pubs out there.

I’ve also spotted another problem that might happen. If you head out into the countryside, the GPS can place you a good mile or two from where you actually are. This afternoon I stopped in a small Essex village and checked my location on Google Maps. It seemed to think I was a mile over the border in Suffolk, in a hamlet that I know has no pub. Thirsty travellers can’t afford a mistake like that, so it looks like the hospitality industry would do well to wait for the technology to catch up with the ideas.

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