Bloggers Blast Google Latitude for Apple iPhone

Google releases Latitude, software that helps users find each other on Google Maps for Mobile, for the iPhone and iPod Touch. However, the search engine's latest foray into mobile and wireless Web applications is greeted with criticism from bloggers who say as a Web app instead of a native iPhone app Latitude is less valuable. Others say the Web app is just plain poor.

Google July 23 proudly released Google Latitude for Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch gadgets as a Web application running in Apple's Safari browser, but that isn't good enough for some mobile road warriors who crave native applications.

Launched on Android, BlackBerry, Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile smartphones in February, Google Latitude is a Google Maps for Mobile feature that lets users share their locations with their friends on a map.

Latitude is also integrated with Google Talk, so users can update their status messages and profile photos, as well as call, SMS (Short Message Service), send instant messages or e-mail each other within the program.

Curiously, Google didn't launch Latitude for the iPhone at that time, and now it is becoming clearer why: corporate politics. The Latitude application is not a native iPhone program and cannot run in the background on the device independent of the Safari browser.

This means Google cannot provide continuous background location updates in the same way it can for Latitude users on Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Window Mobile phones.

That's not for lack of trying; there is no mechanism for applications to run in the background on iPhone, according to Mat Balez, Google Mobile Team product manager, who 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."

Balez added that Google worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users.

So, users get a Web application that has not been truly blessed by Apple's iPhone App Store even if Apple is okay with it.

Even so, Google claims the location is updated every time users launch the application and then continuously updated while the application is running in the browser.

TechCrunch's MG Siegler questions whether Google is kowtowing to Apple with this approach. The question has relevancy given concerns over whether Google CEO Eric Schmidt's seat on Apple's board has unduly influenced either company in any way.

Balez added: "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."

The Google Latitude Web application supports iPhone/iPod Touch OS 3.0 or above and is available in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. iPhone users who want to try Google Latitude can type into their iPhone's Safari browser.

However, if early test results are any indication, Google Latitude for the iPhone leaves loads to be desired. ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick said Google Latitude is "just a dumb list of your friends and their physical locations."

The short list of his complaints reads as follows: no status messages; no places in Latitude; no granular control over location exposure; inefficient location refreshing; no Web interface; and the inability to sort contacts by proximity.

Kirkpatrick recommends users try Brightkite instead. In the meantime, see all of the coverage on TechMeme here.