Loopt Location To Update In The Background On iPhone (AAPL)

Dan Frommer|Sep. 4, 2009, 12:00 PM

Loopt, a location-based social networking service, will be the first third-party iPhone service to work in the background while the app is not running.

Via a deal with AT&T, and with your permission, Loopt will be able to access your location all the time you have a network connection, even when you’re not actively using the iPhone app. (The app isn’t running in the background; it’s working server-to-server.) Loopt cofounder and CEO Sam Altman tells us that it’s been users’ most requested feature.

The basic idea behind Loopt is a map showing where your friends are at the moment, and some other location-based social networking features, like a « who’s nearby » list. But because Apple’s iPhone doesn’t yet support background processing for third-party apps, Loopt ordinarily only knows where you are when you’re actively pinging its servers. That’s not as useful. (And a limitation Loopt doesn’t have to deal with on other platforms.) But that’s changing via this new deal.

loopt-map-new.jpgIt also gives Loopt an advantage over competitors, like Google’s Latitude service, which you must manually activate every time you want to « check in. » Upstart competitor Foursquare also requires you to manually check in, too, but that’s a little different. (Though Loopt, based in Silicon Valley, must watch out for NYC-based Foursquare, which is gaining traction and is about to add a top Loopt feature, the « browse nearby people » feature, which makes flirting easier.)

What’s the point? Always-on, real-time location information is critical for the future of location services, Altman tells us. You’ll be able to get alerts when you’re near a person or place you’re interested in, for example. You can build a « life graph » of all the places you’ve gone, he adds. (Maybe a map for runners?) And — Altman doesn’t say this, but we’re making the next logical step, here — this opens the door to easier location-based advertising, promotions, etc.

Loopt will first offer the new always-on service in a trial for 5,000 users. You can sign up at Loopt’s site using your iPhone’s MobileSafari browser. After the 14-day trial, the always-on feature will cost $3.99 per month, added to your AT&T bill.

When will other apps be able to run in the background without AT&T’s help? That depends how far along Apple is on that project: We’ve heard the company is serious about letting a few apps run in the background. (Palm’s Pre does.) But because that’s not a feature in the new iPhone 3.0 software, it seems it’s still a future project — and might not arrive until next year’s iPhone update — or whenever Apple is ready.

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