iPhone App Store has just gone live and one of the apps getting early attention is Loopt, a location aware mobile social network startup we profiled in June. Loopt enables users to broadcast their status to a broad set of services and find interesting locations and reviews nearby. Their latest release for the iPhone integrates microblogging and reviews from Yelp into its interface. According to founder Sam Altman, Loopt is using the iPhone's rich media platform to pilot new features and services before they filter their way into other mobile phones.The
Loopt status updates can now be published to Facebook and Twitter accounts the user has linked to; other services like FriendFeed can also be updated via an RSS feed of Loopt statuses that the service exports. For iPhone users at least, Loopt updates will show up as tweets on Twitter, as status message updates on Facebook, and as new statuses on FriendFeed.
In addition, Loopt aggregates local content to provide a map view of great places and star ratings. As Loopt adds more content partners besides Yelp, the various review and events sites will be mashed up for users. The iPhone map interface comes in handy here, as scrolling around and zooming in with two fingers is substantially faster and more intuitive than on other platforms. This screenshot shows the feature in action, where users can find quick overviews of locations nearby and click in to read more Yelp reviews about specific places.
Despite how slick the iPhone interface is, Loopt does not yet allow users to write reviews on Yelp from inside the application. Finding this feature lacking, Sam pointed out that users can still make their voices heard through Loopt updates, but this seemed more a concession than an optimal solution. It doesn't make a lot of sense to write reviews as, say, Twitter messages, when the reviews users find on Loopt come from Yelp. Loopt potentially could have brought together both the content from Yelp and the means to write live reviews on the site. Also, Yelp information will only be available to Loopt users on the iPhone. This release falls short of the full range of possibilities of pushing and pulling content from review sites, but presumably this will be addressed in future releases.
Beyond the iPhone: the Road Ahead
This release points to a few interesting possibilities location-based services like Loopt could offer with content partners. It's easy to imagine a platform of reviews, ratings, and preferences indexed by location. As the platform evolves, it could be possible to find not just content about events and places but content from users actually at those areas as events unfold. Finding out about nearby events, even when not advertised, may only be a matter of searching for interesting things in the chatter of a location aware universe.
There are also some novel monetization opportunities. Loopt recently partnered with CBS to deliver location aware ads. Stores and restaurants could, in theory, use the same platform as users do to publish coupons and event notices, creating buzz to attract nearby customers. Location aware advertising in conjunction with location aware user content could become a live directory of what's happening where. The company could take this even further by intelligently suggesting new places and events to users, leveraging their growing local content store and personalization data.
Many others also share that vision. Google seems to have abandoned their Dodgeball acquisition, but they could reinvest in this space and leverage the hundreds of millions of Google accounts in conjunction with the technology that Dodgeball provided. Kleiner Perkins-funded Pelago are also releasing their competing product, Whrrl, onto the iPhone; Boston-based ULocate does more or less the same thing as Loopt and also has deals with AT&T. Even Sense Networks which formerly focused more on aggregating macro-scale GPS information is getting in on the action with heatmaps showing hot nightlife locales.
As the mobile space moves toward platforms like the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile, we should expect the space to start seriously heating up. Much of the effort Loopt spent in their earlier years forging phone pre-installation deals with carriers will become less strategic as consumers adopt platforms. Loopt is banking heavily on the network effect they've built up from past deals with Boost, Sprint, and Verizon and developing new, useful features that will attract enough users to pass the tipping point.
Regardless, this is a space that will eventually be developed, be it by Loopt or by someone else. For now, their iPhone release has some interesting features, but only hints at some of the possibilities the service could offer. As the market matures, the vision of connecting users to places and events via both content and location will no doubt play a key role in the emerging mobile services market. Whether Loopt will take advantage of their platform and their current head start or be swallowed by competitors - only time will tell.
Here's a video from our earlier post: