Just when you thought location sharing had jumped the shark, another app asking you to share your whereabouts has launched. PlaceUs, an app by Alohar Mobile, is available in the App Store today. It’s the brainchild of former Googler Sam Liang, who was lead architect of Google’s location platforms before he left to found Alohar Mobile.
PlaceUs is the most perfunctory of apps. Instead of sharing your location with everyone you know, this app confines location sharing to your closest friends and family; the people you might need to call on in case of an emergency. The app tracks your location in real time and lets your contacts know when you’re leaving a place and when you’re arriving. You can also view your contacts’ whereabouts.
For this interview I’m sitting in a restaurant in SoHo with Dave Smiddy, VP of Products at PlaceUs. He says one of the things that differentiate the app is automation. “[Foursquare’s] Swarm knows I’m in Soho, but it doesn’t know that I’m here in this place,” he says pointing to the restaurant. For the Swarm to know where you are, you actually have to check in.
The PlaceUs app updates your exact location in real time. Once you launch PlaceUs, it runs in the background without your input, notifying you of your contacts’ comings and goings. Running GPS eats a lot of your battery, so the folks at PlaceUs use it judiciously, only logging arrivals and departures. You can track one of your contacts “on the go,” but you’ll have to turn on that feature. And the team has worked to bring the power consumption for these components of the app down.
Of course, it has other Foursquare-ish features, like the ability to like and recommend places you’ve been or your friends have been. The app also keeps a list of your most frequented locations. “So we have my favorites and then my top 10,” he says pointing to his phone. Dave’s top-ten? “Home, girlfriend’s house, where I live, I ride a bike a lot and I go to Whole Foods a lot. A man’s got to get his oatmeal,” he says.
PlaceUs doesn’t plan on selling your data to advertisers. Instead the company is toying with paid features for eventual monetization. “We’ll give you more of something, History exports to Evernote or a communication feature,” says Smiddy.
But what the company is really interested in is “Group AI” or using artificial intelligence to make predictions about you and your contacts. “We could learn the habits and tastes of the people you like and make recommendations. We’re really interested in presenting insights,” says Smiddy. Sort of like Mint for people, I say.
Tim Draper and David Cheriton were both early investors along with 30 other angels.
But now Alohar is owned by Chinese location mapping company AutoNavi, which snapped it up for $41 million in December. Earlier this year AutoNavi was acquired by Chinese Internet Giant Alibaba, which hopes to use AutoNavi’s location technology to compete with Baidu. Alibaba’s most recent attempt to break into the American market was the launch of its e-commerce site 11 Main.
PlaceUs, run out of San Francisco, could help Alibaba reach American users too if location sharing is what people want. Though even Smiddy acknowledges that some people might find it toxic to have a record of their whereabouts. “Some people see this as Kryptonite,” he says.
And location sharing isn’t new, as this article’s headline indicates. Neither is sharing with just your family. Life360 is a family-centric app that alerts your people when you’re coming and going within geo-fenced locations, updates in real-time, and doesn’t drain your battery. Plus, the app already has seen major growth with users in 13 countries, according to Gigaom.
But PlaceUs may have uses beyond family connectivity. The company is angling for the health-app market. Smiddy said there was a day when he was getting off of work that he received a push notification that his wife and one of his kids were at the hospital. He called his wife and it turned out to be no big deal, but he was able to know that something had happened immediately.
Alohar Mobile’s press release notes that PlaceUs could have health-related applications: connecting to wearables and detecting blood pressure and heart rate, or being able to make appointments. If PlaceUs is any indication, apps of the future may settle into being boring and useful.
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