Mobile Meets the Marathon

Everyone around Boston gets into the marathon spirit on Patriot’s Day, even startups. Today, two Boston-based mobile companies are using the event to highlight their technologies.

One is Skyhook Wireless, which makes the software that iPhones, Dell notebook computers, and other mobile devices use to determine their locations based on GPS and Wi-Fi signals. Last month Skyhook  introduced a service called SpotRank that gathers anonymous data on the locations of people accessing Skyhook’s system, creating near-real time maps of demand for location information. Today the company is using SpotRank to highlight location lookups along the route of the Boston Marathon.

In part, it’s a just a demonstration of geek prowess—as more and more people flock to the marathon route to watch the runners, Skyhook’s system will highlight the swelling crowds using its online “heat maps,” especially around the finish-line area near Boston’s Copley Square. But the larger point is to demonstrate how big events that attract mobile phone-toting crowds drive up usage of location-based services.

SpotRank is “the only source of behavioral intelligence [on human travel patterns] of this magnitude available worldwide,” Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan said in a statement last month. “By allowing developers to play with this data we expect to see eye-opening uses of location.” Skyhook hopes that developers will use the SpotRank data, which is available through a provider of mobile developer tools called SimpleGeo, to create new applications and think up new uses for location information, such as predicting crowds and determining the best times for merchants to offer location-based promotions.

Another local startup tapping marathon excitement is FitnessKeeper, maker of the RunKeeper run tracking application for location-aware mobile phones. If you’re a longtime Xconomy reader, you’ll recall that FitnessKeeper founder and CEO Jason Jacobs ran the 2009 Boston Marathon dressed as a giant iPhone, raising more than $2,500 for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in the process.

Today Jacobs is repeating the stunt, but with some company. Aaron White, a developer for FitnessKeeper and chief technology officer at Cambridge-based startup DoInk, will be running alongside Jacobs in a giant Android phone costume, to mark the release of the RunKeeper application for phones running Google’s Android operating system. The app went live in the Android Marketplace (the app store for Android phones) just last night, according to Jacobs.

This year Jacobs is running to support the American Liver Foundation, while White is raising money for Grateful Nation, an online community created by Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. FitnessKeeper fans can track Jacobs’ and White’s progress live at the RunKeeper website, which also features a series of YouTube videos about Jacobs’ and White’s preparations for the marathon.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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