Google Dec. 13 launched its official Google Latitude application for Apple’s iPhone, more than a year and a half after Apple refused to allow the app as a native offering in its App Store.
Google Latitude is the company’s friend-finding application, showing smartphone users where there friends are on Google Maps. The idea is to help friends keep track of each other while on the go.
Latitude tracks friends’ locations using cell phone tower triangulation and the GPS capabilities in phones. Accordingly, the service is completely opt-in. Users must install it and add friends who want to share data about their whereabouts.
The app had promise when it launched almost two years ago, but check-in services such as Foursquare and location-based services from Twitter and Facebook have relegated Latitude to the back burner for many users. Still, Google claimed today that more than 9 million people still actively use Latitude.
Now Latitude has gone native on the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 running Apple’s iOS 4 operating system, according to Google Latitude engineer Chris Lambert.
The Latitude app leverages iOS 4’s multitasking capability to support background updating. Importantly, users who wish to go dark on Latitude can simply turn off background updating and share only city-level location or sign out of Latitude.
Google launched a Latitude Web application for the iPhone in July 2009, noting that it had to resort to that step after Apple rejected the original iPhone app from its App Store.
Google Mobile Team product manager Mat Belez said in a blog post: “After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple 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.”
The big difference between the Web app and the new native App is that the native App will persistently update friends’ location data in the background once they’ve closed the app. This obviously wouldn’t work for the Web app; once a user closes the Apple Safari mobile browser the app ceased to work.
For most consumers, the Web app is fine. Yet having a native app is a big deal for geeks, who despise the corporate brinksmanship between Apple and Google as much as they appreciate persistent location.
Google and Apple engaged in a much more high-profile battle over the Web-versus-native mobile app with Google Voice after Apple rejected it from its App Store for competing with its iPhone functionality.
This all became possible when Apple loosened the reins it held over its iPhone developer terms to allow third-party applications to leverage iOS 4’s capabilities.