Loopt, which offers a mobile friend-finding service, has extended the reach of its application with a new feature that allows users to notify not just other Loopt users, but any friend, of their whereabouts via text or IM.
Starting Thursday, the Loopt service is integrated with subscribers' mobile address books and AIM buddy lists so they can share their real-time location via a text message or instant message.
The way it works is that when Loopt users text or IM their friends they can choose to have their location automatically attached. So a message that says, "Want to meet for a drink?" will also include a message that says "@ 28th Street and Park Avenue." Then it will link to a map that shows the exact location.
Loopt's service, which costs $2.99 a month, is available on some Sprint Nextel and Boost Mobile handsets. The service uses GPS chips in phones to pinpoint a subscriber's location; then users can broadcast that location information to friends or family, who can track them on a tiny map. Subscribers can also sign up for alerts to find out when other Loopt friends are near. They're also able to tag photos and send them to friends with location information attached.
Location-based services are expected to generate lots of money for carriers in the future. Already, most major mobile operators are offering some kind of location-based service, such as GPS-enabled navigation or tracking. Helio, a mobile virtual-network operator, also offers a tracking service that's similar to the one offered by Loopt. Other carriers, such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and now Alltel, offer tracking services for parents who want to keep tabs on their kids.
Now Loopt has taken the tracking service one step further by directly integrating into the mobile address book and IM buddy list. Previously, the Loopt friend-finding service only worked with other Loopt users, which inherently limited the usability of the service.
Even with the new IM and text feature, the Loopt service is still limited in scope. For the application to truly hit the mainstream, it will have to be offered by more carriers.
Sam Altman, co-founder and CEO of Loopt, says more deals are on the way. The company is already in talks with another major mobile operator in the U.S., and it should announce another deal soon. But Loopt isn't just talking to carriers. The company is also working with Google and Facebook to add new features and functionality to its service. So stay tuned.