Apple’s Barometer: Designed For Fitness, But More Valuable For Advertising?

eliportnoy“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Eli Portnoy, president at Thinknear by Telenav.

When Apple announced two new sizes for the iPhone, plus the long-awaited Apple Watch, two weeks ago, the focus of the day was on the three devices themselves, but as we know, gadgets are a sum of their parts.

While improvements, such as wrap-around glass, the A8 chip and a more-powerful-yet-smaller battery, garner most of the attention, the one thing I was most excited to see was the barometer, which is featured in both the phones and watch. By measuring air pressure barometers, Apple devices can, for the first time, track users’ vertical movement, in addition to their lateral motion.

There had been speculation about the inclusion of a barometer in the new devices for months, fueled in part by the June announcement of the Apple HealthKit. While my peers in the ad world focus on the new screens, my focus remains on the barometer not for fitness reasons, but wholly from the ad perspective.

I have spent the last three-plus years obsessed with mobile location data. I can tell you that the accuracy of that data is getting better – on the ground. In rural or even suburban areas, these ground measurements are very accurate because it’s relatively easy to identify a mobile user’s true location across horizontal space. But in big cities with dense populations and real estate that is far more vertical, we as an industry have struggled.  Hybridized GPS and Wi-Fi calculations can identify to within a few feet where on Sixth Avenue a person is standing, but not if that person is 20 stories above the street.

This need for precision has improved somewhat with the advent of beacons, but only in locations where beacons are being deployed, which is almost exclusively retail spaces.  Beacons combined with location data can confirm that a person is on the second floor at Macy’s, but won’t help when that person is actually in the office space above the store.  Because of this, there was always a chance that a consumer at work on the 40th floor would get an ad for a 20%-off coupon for the retailer on the ground floor, when an ad for a new printer might have been far more relevant.

The barometer can change all of this. If consumers are willing to let ad networks access their barometer data the same way they securely and confidentially access GPS data, we will find ourselves moving closer to 100% accurate location-based ad targeting. Are floors one through four dedicated to retail, floors five through 12 commercial and floors 13 to 20 residential? No problem.

Not only will it become possible to serve ads to the three different categories of consumers, but also, if the barometer is sensitive enough, we will be able to do so down to the exact floor. Ads about strollers can be served to consumers on the fifth floor, which contains a day-care facility, for example, while ads about dieting books or fitness apps may be directed at those on the sixth floor, where there’s a gym.

Sure, the barometer will know how many stairs a person has climbed or whether she is on the uphill or downhill part of a bicycle race, but I’m of the belief that its usefulness for health and fitness monitoring will be far surpassed by its usefulness in the mobile marketing world.

Follow Eli Portnoy (@eportnoy), Thinknear (@Thinknear) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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