Apple gets into the location-sharing game

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Apple is not done taking on application makers with iOS 5. The iPhone manufacturer just announced it is launching a new location-sharing feature called Find My Friends, that will allow users to easily share their location with other users.

The details are still coming in but users will be able to share their location with friends and find out where their friends and family are in real-time. Users can specify when they want to share and what time they want to stop pushing out their location. It reportedly has simple privacy controls and parental restrictions. It’s a free addition as part of iOS 5 and will likely just work between iOS devices like iMessage does.

Although it’s just iOS only, it’s another case in which Apple is not afraid to include a feature that other companies have built their businesses off of. I recently wrote about Life360 and Location Labs and their family location-sharing services and apps. Loopt and Google’s Latitude also include location sharing. These apps are cross platform so they can appeal to a wider array of consumers. But Apple might be able to pull away some users who have an iOS household or have a lot of friends on iOS.

I don’t think existing location services need to fear immediately unless iOS can overtake Android and become the default smartphone for users. ┬áBut I’d be more worried for paid services like Location Labs, which provides a white-label service to AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

But Find My Friends could also, if done right, help ease people into the idea of location sharing, which is still a privacy concern for many. By giving more granular controls, it might help convince people of the utility of sharing this information. And it might open up opportunities for app makers to go up market and stay ahead of Apple by offering more premium experiences. That’s the feeling Instapaper maker Marco Arment, who said there’s plenty of room in the market for Apple and its new Reader time-shifting functionality.

But again, it’s a good reminder that platform holders can shake things up and introduce features that can compete against existing third-party offerings. It might shine a light on location-sharing, which can be good for many location-based services but it could also mean more competition for apps and services, who will need to step up their game.

Image courtesy of the Verge

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