The smartphone explosion has invited a bum-rush of new apps - and extensions of old ones - vying to be the way we discover places. Companies big and small are fighting to be the best location data platform. Google and Yelp struggle for dominance of business listings, and valuable geo data providers like SimpleGeo are selling for big bucks.

ReadWriteWeb gets tips about new consumer-facing location apps every day. We like the futuristic whiz-bang idea of augmented reality, so we tend to write these up every once in a while. But geolocation apps have not yet caught on in consumers' minds. That's because most offerings focus on monetizing location, leaving the user interface as an afterthought. Today, I think that changed. I found Localscope, the first location app I've ever used that I think I'll use every day.

A Browser For the World Around You

Localscope is currently available for iPhone and webOS only. This is actually the launch of version 2.0; the app has been around for almost a year. Version 1 helped users find things nearby using publicly available geo data. It was a nice interface, but not a unique offering. Version 2.0 is much more than that. It's a browser for the world around you.

The app has three views: gallery, map and augmented reality. None of these interfaces is new to the market, although Localscope's UI design is striking.

But here's the difference: while a photo discovery app like Trover or a business finding app like Yelp can show you its own content through these same kinds of views, that's all it has. Localscope lets you toggle between whichever location-enabled service you want to find something nearby.

Localscope has both a search mode and a discover mode. When you choose a mode, it goes straight into the view you last used, and a scrolling list of services appears across the bottom. They include Panoramio, Google's map-based photo network, Instagram, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Google and Bing, as well as the open-source service Wikimapia. Siloed services like Yelp are conspicuously absent.

Find What You're Looking For

The app will grab full location info, usually from Google, when you choose a place. But you don't have to search for a restaurant; you can just go find neat spots people have photographed on Instagram or tweeted about. That's the kind of exploration that drew me to Trover, but Trover is its own network, while Localscope searches across a bunch of different, more popular ones.

The best touch is the compass, though. You don't have to hold your phone up in the goofy augmented reality position. The app uses the phone's compass, and it displays the direction of the object you're looking for everywhere, even in the list view, using a floating compass icon. You can start walking right away. It never takes more than two or three taps to find something that interests you and start looking for it.

This is what I've been waiting for, a location app that isn't about gathering data from me, but about showing it to me. And having access to so many services means that the exact thing I'm looking for is bound to be in here somewhere, never more than a few slides and taps - and then a short walk - away.

Localscope is available in the iTunes Store for $1.99.