3 Things to know when making location-aware apps

“I want to use positioning in my app, what can I do with it?”

This is a question I face often, and my answer is: “a lot”.

This might seem like a short boring answer. Before jumping into the world of proximity head on, it is necessary to understand everything in between the app and proximity. That’s why I would like to share my thoughts on this subject and focus it down to 3 things to consider before using proximity/location-awareness. This reflects what we have discussed with hundreds of application developers on their needs and helped them process ideas for how to utilize location in their apps.

1. Serving the Creator



Why did you build the app?

To make money is the most common answer and what we will be focusing on.

Typically, an app solves a problem, assists in something or just entertains the user. But still it always serves a purpose, for creator or the user. First let us talk about how the app serves the creator in monetary value.

Value is generally generated in three different forms:
  1. A straight payment from the user: E.g. Buying a new character in a gaming app.
  2. Payment through a middleman: An app that offers discounts to different clothing stores. When the discount is used in the app, the application gets a set amount for leading the user to a purchase decision.
  3. Using data to enhance sales: Knowing the users’ needs and preferences can be a huge asset and targeting them accordingly can have great effect on sales. Gathered data from the user can be used by yourself or even sold further.

Knowing how your app generates value is crucial to knowing how to add position services to the mix. Even more so now, that big data is revolutionizing how consumers are targeted through marketing. Adding positioning services to the app can be a huge edge over other rivalry apps. But this must be done right. It should serve a certain purpose, not to just add as a new cool feature. Positioning has the potential to enhance the using experience and thus create more value to you! To explain my logic even further I will use three different case examples to demonstrate how it’s done.

Case: Owning the store and app


You own a coffee shop chain and you have made an app. The app has many cool features, but the main purpose is a loyalty program or a virtual coffee card.

Key to adding proximity:

You could add a map to show where the users are and where to find the nearest coffee shop. But that is not the MAIN purpose of the app. Virtual coffee card is the main purpose and thus positioning should be linked to this. Now you can follow how many times the user has visited the store and reward this (20 times visited in different chains = One free coffee). Or perhaps whenever the user is paying at the counter, the virtual coffee card registers this automatically.


Now the user gets rewarded for visits and not only purchases. This will in return raise loyalty in a new way. On top of that the customers virtual coffee card works automatically making it easier for the customer.

Case: Owning the app, but not stores


You have an app that provides relevant information and discounts to different coffee shops. The purpose is to guide as many people as possible to these coffee shops. The value lies in getting the coffee shops more customers in order for you to gain money.

Add proximity:

 Send the user a push notification whenever the user enters within 10m of any coffee shop. The apps job is to reminder the user of a purchase possibility, at the right time in the right place.


Your app automatically encourages and reminds users of the possibility to make a purchase. And this  reminder comes at times you dictate. For example, every coffee store that uses your apps services, can have a specialized message, radius of message sent, and even offline messaging (sending a reminder to the user that they haven’t been to our coffee shop in 2 weeks). This is something that serves very well this type of app, customizing every customer need, and making more money.

Case: Owning the data


You own a coffee shop chain and you have made an app. The app has many cool features, but the main purpose is to show relevant information to the customer (operating hours & menu) to make them buy your products.

Add proximity:

Now you know the movements of customers. Inside the coffee shops, and even outside. You can track dwell times, loyalty, visit frequency and much more.


Gaining valuable insights on your customers. A big coffee house can spot that most of the customers tend to sit on the sofas more often and thus adding more sofas to the venue would be the answer. Thus, serving the customers need without them even realizing it. From the data gathered there is a countless of different options that you can do, much depending on what the data shows. Even selling it is one option.

2. Serving the user



One of the most important things we have learned is — that whether it be for customers, application or company internal application — new features will not be adopted if the end user does not benefit from it.

We have come across many firms that wish to monitor their own employees. The idea sounds great; no need for the employee to check in or out, the supervisor gets objective data and employees can move around freely.

But on the other hand, the time used for simply checking in and out isn’t time consuming. The employees have the moral responsibility and freedom to do it themselves, taking this from them isn’t simple. There is a new aspect of control added and the benefits of adapting this new service isn’t compelling. What easily happens is the application or the phone tracking isn’t used and its deemed useless.

The silver lining to this is, it can be done. What you want to do is, make the app beneficial for the user by adding features that clearly and profoundly make the users life more simple and easy. Alppilan kiinteistöhuolto, a Finnish real estate service company managed to implement this successfully and we even have a Case study for it here.

We get the excitement about adding cool new features to the app, but what happens when a gaming app asks your permission for location tracking? Users start wondering why would I need to give this app permission, if there is no visible and easy detectable benefit. If the game is Pokémon GO, you might understand why the location on needed.

“What to give to the user?”

Offer something that wouldn’t be possible without location awareness. Give your users something useful in at the right time and place.

  • When you are going for a bungee jump, you get a reminder to update your insurance
  • When entering a car dealership, you might get an offer for a car insurance.
  • Treasure hunt: free baby products daily/weekly/monthly to those, who find the treasure in the real world. The treasure can in fact just be a physical area defined with our platform. Could be hidden inside a store that sells the products, inside an event venue, at a park etc.
  • Gamification: It is also possible to make the app user hide some goodies around the city for other app users.
  • Digital screens: In addition to targeted advertisements on the phone, it is possible to provide targeted advertising on digital screens, when users are walking past Smart digital screens

These are just some fun examples that could be done with location.  Now it’s your job to SHAZAM your app and figure out how to position the positioning in it!


3. Expecting the impossible



Lastly, I would like to point out that even though proximity technology has come a long way and can do a lot of amazing super cool stuff, it can’t do the impossible. We can track people outdoors to indoors, know when they are in an elevator or stairs, track how long they have been in certain locations, send them personalized messages and all this with the precision of a couple meters.

But when someone tells me that they want to send their users a notification on their phone at the exact moment the user enters a store, that is simply not possible. We will send the notification within 1-5 (depending on logic of sending messages) seconds of the user entering the premises. And these premises can be customized to be 3 meters before the front door and so if it takes the user 3 seconds to travel 3 meters, we would be in the realm of “sending the message the moment the user enters the store”. It is mostly about testing and configuration, knowing what to expect and when. Then we will make even the impossible possible.

Sometimes the expectations unrealistic and not that useful in the end. Think about a mall, full of people and you want to know where everyone is, in real time and every second. That would need every person in the mall to have your app, a phone with Bluetooth and Wi-fi on. We can do real-time, but it’s not necessary to know in this case. The data will be gathered in bulk and is visible every 5 minutes in the analytics. It is a little overly ambitious to know every users movements all the time.

We try to keep it simple and efficient. Based on our experience that works the best, especially for your app.

PS. What do you think about all this? How would you link location to an app? I really want to know, so go ahead and leave a comment!

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