February 4, 2009

iPhone navigation apps round-up

Posted in Articles at 8:22 am by siddey

Since joining the iPhone religion I have been immensely satisfied with the device as a phone, information source and general navigation tool. At this stage nothing available for downloading from Apple’s Appstore comes close to being a LBS killer-app, however, I think there is a lot of potential. Mainly due to the relative youth of the platform, most LBS apps are still amateurish with the one stand-out exception being Brightkite.

It seems as though iPhone developers are building apps without an understanding of lessons learnt from their larger PC-based cousins.

Please consider that my reviews of a selection of current iPhone location-enabled applications are written without yet having an understanding of what Apple has opened up to developers to use in their applications. For that balanced view, I’ll report back soon once I’ve delved into the development environment and understand the constraints.

1. Brightkite

Brightkite - checking in Brightkite - stream Brightkite - cheeky monkey!

Essentially twitter with photos and automatic geocoding of your posts. You “check-in” to a particular location either automatically courtesy of the built-in iphone location services, or manually by searching for an address. From there you can locate people nearby, follow discussion threads and post. To explore the whole brightkite world, simply dive into the “universe”, much like the Twitter public timeline where all public discussions are visible in one large fishbowl. It’s a good start as a LBS but like twitter, discussions can be a little vacuous although there are still some wonderful insights to be had into other countries and people from time to time. Well worth a play!

2. Photoswap

This one will really suck you in for a while. Take a photo of anything, post it and back comes a photo taken by another photoswap user only seconds before. You can get some very funny and / or educational photo exchanges happening but unfortunately this one does not get a PG rating. You will come across some male and/or female genitalia on this one, so only experiment if you’re not offended by this.  To me, this app (excluding genitalia) demonstrates how addictive and compelling it is to receive real-time images from around the world. You really do feel connected to the matrix for a while.

3. Photokast

Photokast - splash Photokast - random photo Photokast - travel the world

A similar concept to photoswap but this one allows you to post archived photos from your camera roll. This one has a voting mechanism built into it and you can track the popularity and movements of your photos as they travel from one person to another across the population. Again, this is inflicted with a M rating syndrome, so user beware. Posts are moderated by the organisation.

4. Phonezap

Phonezap - splash Phonezap - nice flower! Phonezap - another PG example

This time it’s more of a Photokast variant but behaves like a web-based online discussion forum and I think rather than being a pure iphone application, it’s simply embedding a web browser control to deliver a web application designed to fit the iphone screen size. Pretty basic but in some ways similar to brightkite in that you can filter images / posts based upon location and your posts are automatically geocoded.

5. Urbanspoon

This time we move away from photo sharing apps to community based restaurant rating and locators. This has a cool (gimmicky?) interface that allows you to use the iphone motion sensor to shake a slot-machine style interface which then randomly returns restaurants in your selected star category, location and to your style of food preference. You can also manually dial the wheels but that’s nowhere near as much fun. 🙂 Setting up a user account allows you to add and vote for restaurants. Not a huge amount of value unless your out-and-about and in a hurry to find a meal but I do think the interface has some potential, especially if there were more than restaurants to choose from.

6. AroundMe

I’d put this one into a mobile, location-aware finder or point-of-interest search service. Select from a range of service categories such as petrol stations, restaurants, pubs etc. and it will tell you what’s located near you plus provide links to local business listings and google maps for directions. Handy but not earthe shattering. There are a few similar apps in the app store. Locly is one example that originates from Australia.

7. zintin

** Update: As of 12/04/2009 Zintin is no longer operational. The inability to effectively moderate and remove explicit content forced Apple to shut them down **

Zintin - splash Zintin - local messageboards Zintin - a message stream

This is a basic brightkite variant but whereas brightkite is an extremely clean service (I expect they have armies of content cleaners working for them), this is porn central. Are you detecting a theme yet? 🙂 It’s ok for a very brief time to check out the walls of other users or the public timeline (the “world” bulletin board it is called) and to add photos of your own. One interesting function is the ability to scribble on either your own or other user’s photos by using your finger as a pen. Depending upon the time it becomes more of an online chat service for teenagers, than it is a photo sharing site.


The information above reflects the common variants of location based applications currently avaialbe on the iPhone. As you can see there are some odd moments of brilliance and entertainment but the functionality is still limited enough for the reward to eventually die-off. Hopefully future releases will add new dimensions and bring longevity to the experience, although arguably brightkite could kill them all by extending their service to span allof these  functions.