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Yelp plans splashy debut in location-aware mobile market

The business reviews site is working on an application for Apple's iPhone that will let "Yelpers" find out what's nearby and whether it sucks or not, representatives tell CNET News.com.

Business reviews site Yelp will be focusing quite a bit on mobile features in the near future, including an upcoming location-aware iPhone app on the way, company representatives told CNET News.com Wednesday.

This will mean that iPhone users will be able to log onto the Yelp application and search for businesses and reviews of establishments close to their geographic coordinates. In other words, you will be able to look and find which sushi restaurants are within five blocks of your location--and see Yelp members' warnings on which ones might make you puke.

The application is still in development and does not have a timeline for release yet, so few concrete details are available. It'll likely rely on cell phone tower triangulation for location awareness rather than GPS; while the impending "iPhone 2.0" is widely believed to have GPS capability, but if the application uses triangulation, "Yelpers" with first-generation iPhones will be able to use the product as well.

This will be Yelp's first foray into location-aware services, which are a hot and developing niche of the social Web. Some services, like Loopt and Brightkite, focus on charting your friends on a map; others, like Buzzd and Socialight (in the U.K.) run services designed to pinpoint nearby restaurants and bars.

Yelp's entry into the location-aware market could potentially shake things up since the service already has a huge cult following in several major U.S. cities (it's approaching 3 million business reviews) and most other players are start-ups trying to build up loyal user bases. A location-aware mobile Yelp could deal a blow to newish companies like Whrrl, which offers pretty much the same kind of service.

The company has not said whether it will expand location-aware mobile services to devices beyond the iPhone, but Apple's handset is a logical starting point. Yelp, which is geared toward urban 20- and 30-somethings, pulls in a full percent of its traffic from iPhones, representatives said, and the company doesn't even operate an iPhone-specific mobile application yet. That could be due to the company's popularity in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, which happen to be (at least anecdotally) hubs of iPhone use.

Also on the agenda: international expansion, slated to come later this year. Currently, you can write a Yelp review for any business in the U.S., but not internationally. First in line is likely Canada, followed by other English-speaking countries before the site moves into translation efforts.