Gadling’s guide to GPS and location based services

Traveling for me evokes memories of ancient explorers, navigating across vast oceans with only a sextant and the light of the stars and moon. Or the arduous journey of Lewis and Clark as they mapped a slow path across the great wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase. We’ve certainly come a long way since then in terms of navigation – in fact the now-ubiquitous availability of handheld GPS units and Google Maps has made finding your way around in unknown places a cinch.

But in fact, GPS and Google Maps is only the beginning. As we saw with yesterday’s new 3G iPhone with built-in GPS, we’re in the midst of a new era of “location aware devices.” This includes everything from from cameras with geotagging to “location-aware” mobile phones which promise to revolutionize the way we travel and gather information for our trips. Follow along and we’ll take you through Gadling’s guide to GPS and location based services.

Mobile Phones and Location Based Services
A whole range of mobile devices are now on the market that can pinpoint your exact location. Companies like Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola and Apple all make devices which can access this information over the network. This has enabled a huge range of new ways to use your phone, from getting turn-by-turn driving directions to more advanced applications that combine the power of social networks with your location. Services like Where and Socialight not only know where you are, they also let you access location-specific “tags” left by other users in popular locations. Want to know the best place to grab a drink when most bars close at 11pm in London? Find the closest late-night pub by subscribing to Socialight’s “Late London” channel. Looking for a place to cool off this summer in the Northeast United States? Check out the “Swimming holes” group. Drank too much coffee this morning? Better get MizPee. The best part of all this is that the recommendations are based on your location, so you can find the most interesting/useful spots closest to you relatively quickly – no guidebook required.

Geotagging and Photography
Not only does your mobile phone know where you are, your camera is also getting in on the act too. Tools like this Sony GPS unit let you add location data to your snapshots, providing a whole new dimension to your digital scrapbook. Perhaps you’re trying to track down that street in Austin where you took a photo of the great Mexican restaurant? Not a problem, just check out the location data embedded in your image and the next time you’re there, you can swing by for a few tacos. Even popular photo-sharing site Flickr has gotten in on the trend, allowing you to view maps of destinations with popular photos pinpointed to where they were taken. Interestingly enough, there are now even cameras on the market that have built-in GPS capabiltiies.

GPS Just for Fun
In addition to GPS-equipped phones and cameras, there are also plenty of other ways you can use GPS devices just for goofing around. Sony’s popular PlayStation Portable offers a GPS add-on, allowing you to access location data for some of your favorite games like Metal Gear Solid to unlock special bonus characters. And you’ve probably heard by now about the artwork people have been creating using GPS software. Even though the recent DHL piece proved to be a hoax, other copycats have already followed suit. Of course, no article about GPS would be complete without a mention of everyone’s favorite GPS activity, geocaching. If you want to take it step further, you might even use GPS to create a life-size game of Pac-Man for yourself. The possibilities are pretty endless.

Not only do these new location-aware devices services provide us with useful information, they promise to change the way we travel. We are no longer tied to the recommendations of guidebooks. We can call upon user-created information about places to make informed decisions about what to see and where to go. We can take a look at a tiny street in a far-away land, without ever having to step foot there. Or we can use these new services for just plain fun. As location-based devices and services become cheaper and more widespread, they can only serve to help us make more informed travel decisions in the future.