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Hardly 'priceless': MasterCard's iPhone app

MasterCard's new iPhone app riffs off its amusing 'priceless' TV campaign. How well does that translate to an application?

Updated 7/22/09 at 11:45am PT: MasterCard's first iPhone app, ATM Hunter, debuted last April.

MasterCard's Priceless Picks
Deals like this were few and far between in my neighborhood. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

On Friday, MasterCard jumped again into the iPhone fray with its second corporate iPhone app. Expanding on the theme of its well-known "Priceless" campaign, the free application, Priceless Picks, pairs GPS and 3D maps to show you local deals, dining, and other points of interest in your immediate vicinity.

How, other than the branding, does it differ from Google Maps, Yelp, and the squads of similar user-rated map apps? Not by much. You soar around the map in quasi-street view or bird's-eye view, identifying locations as the color-coordinated bubble pops up. Red for dining, blue for shopping, orange for "Priceless" items, and so on.

MasterCard's Priceless Picks
Sadly, Vino Venue is actually closed. CNET/Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt

MasterCard hopes that local vendors will post constantly updating deals in the few words contained within each bubble, and that users will post their local tips--best spot for a sunset, for example. The biggest problem is that they don't say much. Tap the bubble and you don't get a phone number, Web site, or star rating. You see options to e-mail the selection to a friend, flag as improper, or explore more details. The last is instructs you to call the merchant to verify a deal or pinch and zoom to work out the vendor's exact street location.

Priceless Picks isn't terrible. It looks pretty good and loads fairly quickly. It lets you filter categories. And it did point to an interesting source for wine sampling via vending machine--that has since closed. Spinning around the map can get dizzying--we'd like to see a compass and a list mode to complement the map mode, not to mention a hearty infusion of real information that will help bridge the gap between merely locating a place and actually visiting it. A comments system wouldn't hurt either, or a way for users to upload short video reviews that riff on the "Priceless" advertising format.

While completely innocuous, the best thing about MasterCard's new free Priceless iPhone app is that it does, literally, lack a price tag.