It also had a feature allowing me to "find friends" close to my location using the iPhone's GPS chip but it was limited by the number of users I could recruit -- they had to install the app and sign up for an account.
Have you ever asked someone "Hey, can you install this application so that I can see where you are at all times?"
Similar to Loopt, Latitude allows you to see the location of your friends on a map via a completely opt-in process. Privacy minded users can rest easy knowing that Latitude only shares your co-ordinates with friends that you invite to the service.
After adding friends, which fires off an email invitation, you can chose your privacy settings to control how much information you want to provide and these can be changed on the fly. Choices include:
- Detect your location - updated automatically
- Set your location - set manually
- Hide your location - pretty self-explanatory
You'll also find basic Search and Directions functionality to help you get around the world. And just like our Google Maps for mobile client apps (and more recently on desktop Google Maps), you can press the "blue dot" to be taken to your approximate current location on the map with My Location, thanks to Safari now supporting the W3C Geolocation API.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the announcement was the reasoning for releasing Latitude as a Web app as opposed to a native app. Google states that after working closely with Apple the company "requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles."
Confusion? Really? I don't really get this part of the announcement. Perhaps Google wanted to removed the barrier of first having to download an app before being able to invite users? It couldn't be that Apple (or even AT&T) was concerned about the volume of data that Latitude would shove onto the network via everyone's "unlimited" data plan -- you'd easily do that now by turning on the My Location feature in Maps and set your iPhone's auto-lock to "never."
Google, like Apple, continues to push for improvements in web browser functionality. Now that iPhone 3.0 allows Safari to access location, building the Latitude web app was a natural next step. In the future, we will continue to work closely with Apple to deliver useful applications -- some of which will be native apps on the iPhone, such as Earth and YouTube, and some of which will be web apps, like Gmail and Latitude.
Since the installed base of users with Google accounts is quite large -- Gmail alone had over 100 million users as of February 2009 -- the service is bound to be a success. Latitude is currently available in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Do you plan to try Latitude? Or is it a little too intrusive for your taste?