Google’s (GOOG) new Latitude service — which shows your friends’ location on a Google map on your mobile phone — could be big trouble for several startups that offer similar services. These include Loopt, whose backers include Sequoia Capital, and Pelago, whose backers include Kleiner Perkins and Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos.
Loopt co-founder and CEO Sam Altman says his company’s software still has advantages: Loopt offers more features, like its “mix” service that lets you find out who’s nearby, and connections to other services like Twitter. It’s also available on more phones.
And Loopt (the company) is more than the Loopt app itself — it powers other location-based services for mobile carriers. So even if Latitude takes off, Loopt Inc. isn’t necessarily screwed.
But our thesis all along has been that it’s going to be hard for upstarts like Pelago and Loopt to compete with big companies like Google and Facebook, which already know all your friends and can turn ‘location’ features on any time they want.
Google is already making its move. Latitude is now available for many RIM (RIMM) BlackBerries, most Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Mobile and Nokia (NOK) Symbian phones, and the Google Android-powered G1. Soon, it’ll launch on Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and iPod touch — key devices for Loopt, which has been featured in iPhone TV commercials, and Pelago.
What’s Facebook’s plan? In an interview last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told us that location is a “really important application,” but that Facebook is still figuring out its approach. For instance, a service — even Loopt or Google Latitude — that takes advantage of Facebook Connect, the company’s sign-in service for third-party apps, could potentially be just as useful as something Facebook built on its own.
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