Don't call it an LBS service," Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO of Aloqa, told me when I spoke to him a couple weeks ago. He prefers the term "context-aware." Aloqa officially launched yesterday on the Android platform and announced $1.5 million in funding. Other smartphone platforms are coming soon. Aloqa currently works in the US and Germany.
Agrawal, preparing for his presentation at yesterday's Mobile Beat conference, was trying to come up with a quick way to describe Aloqa. The metaphor he often uses is cable TV channels or an "app store within an app store." I didn't stay to see his presentation, but it must have been successful because the company won the "people's choice" award at the show.
Aloqa has a menu of content modules or channels (image at right), which can be "owned" or developed third parties. (There will be an SDK soon.) This is almost identical to what MapQuest has done on the PC with its Local site.
Those modules range from brand finders to news, events, restaurants and social networking. All are location enabled. In explaining what differentiates Aloqa, which had been around for roughly two years before Agrawal joined as CEO, he points out that location on Aloqa can be calibrated to the specific app and may tap into different location technologies as appropriate to the use case. "If it's Starbucks you only need accuracy within 500 meters, but if it's your kid you need GPS level accuracy," he says.
I asked Agrawal about potential similarities between Aloqa and other "discovery" oriented local mobile sites or apps such as Where, Earthcomber, AroundMe or Places Directory among others (Yahoo! and AOL also had third party platform/apps strategies at one point). He explains that Aloqa can be entirely personalized and, more significantly, has push/notifications that rely on "dynamic data." And like the Android apps marketplace itself third parties are welcome to build their own channels; however Agrawal said there would be some oversight to prevent spam or other undesirable content. (This is again like MapQuest Local on the PC.)
Because the data in the various modules are coming from dynamic feeds he says that they're potentially changing all the time. News for example from Topix or events from Eventful will change continuously and notification of those changes are pushed to the user in the form of icons on the channel buttons.
The details page of any event, location or listing (depending on the content module) allows users to visit the site for more complete information, show the location on a map, call the business or share the listing.
Agrawal also points to Aloqa's Facebook channel, which allows users to set up what amounts to a temporary social network through Facebook. All those participating must have Aloqa on their phones, but if they do they're notified when their Aloqa-Facebook contacts are nearby. All of this is permission based.
Aloqa's channels can be added or subtracted with relative ease. The app is not without some bugs and awkward dimensions. But those will be found and addressed I'm sure. Agrawal envisions multiple revenue streams that could also include white labeling the service and premium channels for consumers.
A number of companies have developed or are developing location-aware apps that seek to be comprehensive or nearly so. Geodelic is one and MobilePeople is another, among some of those I mentioned. Apps stores are mostly vertical marketplaces at the moment. Aloqa and its competitors seek to go in the opposite direction and provide a "one-stop shop," literally and figuatively.
Conceptually I like the strategy because people don't want to have to constantly go in and out of apps, as a general rule, in getting to different categories of information. In terms of challenges, getting good data isn't always easy and developing the right UI/UX is another challenge.