The 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.

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:

This has been a guest post by Nate Janewit. You can find him online at FriendFeed and Twitter.

Loopt