Earlier today, I mentioned the latest Google Maps for Mobile (s goog)version was available for Windows Mobile (s msft) and Symbian S60 devices. As I looked at the web version of Maps on my iPhone (s aapl), I noticed that Google Latitude was working. Some readers found the same, but others only saw a “coming soon” page. Thanks to fortuitous timing on my part, I stumbled on to the feature just as it was rolling out from Google. I had asked Google about the confusing situation and the official response pointed me to the news: Google did indeed just roll out Latitude for Maps on the iPhone’s web browser.
I know what you’re thinking: a web app? Surprisingly, it works extremely well and if the new HTML5 functionality is half as good as this on web apps of the future, I’m going to be very happy. The functionality and menu system isn’t that different than what you’d expect on a desktop app. In fact, if you showed the new Latitude for iPhone to your average consumer, I doubt many would realize that it’s a web application. As you can see, Google is taking advantage of floating menu objects and other UI overlays that make it difficult to believe this is just a web page. You can easily manage friend requests as well as your privacy levels for each individual friend. And Google will provide you real-time turn-by-turn directions to your friends.
The one obvious downside is that your location is only updated when you have the browser open to the Latitude site. So ultimately, I find the value of the service greatly diminished. Sure, I can open it when I want to see where my friends are, but they won’t see where I am — they’ll see where I last was when I had my browser open to Google Latitude. Obviously, that’s not Google’s fault. Apple is the one who won’t let third-party applications run in the background on the iPhone.
Regardless of that limitation, if you own an iPhone running 3.0 and you reside in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, I recommend giving Google Latitude a try. If not to see where your friends are — or were, as the case may be — but to see the beginnings of web applications truly maturing. I was hoping to have this work on the Palm Pre (s palm) as many iPhone-specific sites work well on the handset. Unfortunately, the user agent string must be the giveaway with the new Latitude service for iPhone. Using the Pre simply takes me to the standard Google Maps. Hopefully, we’ll see a Palm Pre version soon — I’d welcome either a standalone app or a web app, although my preference would be for software. That would get around the limitation found on the iPhone version, as the Palm is excellent at multi-tasking.